Sharing Chernobyl: Video Editing for the Rest of Us
Stephanie Theune (known here as just “Schmoo”) writes for SmugMug. Write what? If you don’t know, she’s done a good job. Recently, she emailed some guy on the internet to take her to Chernobyl and came back with suppressed facial expressions and an intense craving for kale. The following movie was birthed from that amazing trip. We asked her to tell us how she came up with it, since video remains uncharted territory for many digital photographers.
I am not a videographer. I’m a writer who likes to take pics.
That said, the allure of video is a siren call that’s too strong to resist. Like a selkie to the sea I’m drawn to attempt something pretty in this new, now-widely available format. (Shiny!)
You’ve probably thought: “I have a 5D!! Why can’t I do that?” Yeah, me too. Fear not, gentle reader. Joe Photographer can make a simple movie, you’ll see.
Most photographers serious enough to invest in a video-equipped DSLR already have enough software to edit video clips. (It’s like what they say about those metal steamer baskets. Check your kitchens, folks, I guarantee you have one of your own.) I’ve canoodled with iMovie, I’ve canoodled with Final Cut Express. And I am sure that you can stick clips together and add a music track using one of many other programs, too, so get Googling!
Like all my projects, the song was the key. I had a trip to Ukraine planned out but the moment I heard this track by Unheilig I knew it was perfect. Over the next few months I brainstormed what I wanted the movie to look like, mostly jotting down words that I thought would help my headspace, like:
- walking away
… and so on. These were just ideas, but I needed to know what to shoot.
During the four days in Chernobyl, things got hairy. My “actors” were my buddies and they were – understandably – not there to be shot, but to take photos themselves. So filming them doing the things I had planned in my head was trickier than catching a Sasquatch. Try, try, try again.
I primarily used the 16-35L and 70-200L lenses for all my clips, due to the shallow depth of field. It’s a neat trick, using the focal point to navigate your way through the picture. After all, Pripyat’s kind of a dead zone. And in the throes of autumn there isn’t much going on besides freezing rain, chopped beets and a few sad leaves waving ‘bye.
I shot and shot until my CF cards cried uncle. On past projects I would run out of clips and ended up scraping the bottom of the barrel, so I learned that lesson fast: Shoot early, shoot often. (Sound familiar?) Nothing ever goes to waste… especially because the “unusable” ones where your friends are making faces and being goofballs are useful as blackmail.
When I got home and finally dumped my files, I was overwhelmed for a week. I let them, um, cure a bit on my hard drive before I sat down to organize it all. Hey, sometimes you need to grab a brewski and Become One with your digital pile.
Step one: Give each file a useful, identifiable name. “MVI_9473.MOV” became “leaves-rain-chair.MOV” This way I was able to get an idea what the clip was about at a glance.
Step two: I then created bins (normal folks call them “folders”) in Final Cut Express to sort the clips by type: Landscapes, People, Animals (wasn’t much in that one), and Chernobyl Tours (ditto). After moving all the clips into the relevant bins I was ready to go.
Step three: I spent the next two weeks throwing spaghetti at the walls. Drop a clip into the timeline, see how it looks, then trim or delete it if it doesn’t. Movie making is largely serendipity and you never know what you’re going to get until you try. There were a few parts that worked out exactly as I had envisioned, but I’d say about 90% of it was made through playing around.
If you’re a natural director who can pre-plan a whole video, more power to ya! Email me and teach me your secrets. (I’m serious.)
Once the clips were sorted in a rough sequence that worked well, it was time to trim and make sure the timing was perfect. By the way, precision trimming is a little easier to do in Final Cut than it is in iMovie.
Color. Now this was a real toss-you-by-the-horns, buck-you-in-the-rump beast. I played around with the Color Corrector, then tried Magic Bullet’s Colorista, but after much blood, sweat and tears I decided there was just no way I was going to get that Hollywood-rich color that I had always dreamed about. Not for this. The weather in the clips was overcast and rainy and I do have a regular job and a life outside of movie-making. I had to move on.
Since the music was already raw and Cold War-esque, I decided to throw on a black/white filter with a slight sepia tone, then add a small vignette to round out the edges.
Finally, I made the opening, ending and intro text in LiveType. This is a very simple program to use and I didn’t want anything fancy, just a simple slow fade out. This probably took about half an hour, total, and the nice thing about LiveType is that as you’re saving the clips in one program, it automatically updates it in the other.
Export, upload et voila! You’re ready to click Get a Link and post it everywhere. This particular movie was created to build momentum for the still pics from the Exclusion Zone, so I hope others find it interesting as those of us who were there.
Good luck and don’t be afraid to edit your own movie. This is a fantastic way to record memories and tell your stories in a fresh way. You’ll be glad you did.
Need moral support? We’ve got a great little corner on our Dgrin forum reserved for video dabblers and we love seeing folks try their hand at it. No question is too silly… except for the ones I ask! Don’t forget to share what you make.
Here’s to creating great movies together,