Improvising with Video Production

Producing a music video with muvee autoProducer

So there I was in the new coffee shop in Galax, Va., the opening of which was a huge event out in the country (Wi-Fi! Chai! Bagels!). The client was concerned that the opening act of the concert I was producing, fire-wielding belly dancers, had performed longer than expected—five songs instead of three. Though the act was absolutely fabulous, she was concerned that the sense of awe and danger (How do they do that?) wouldn't translate to DVD, and it was questionable how many buyers of the concert DVD would actually watch the dancers. Plus, the dancers' 20 minutes added to the 70-minute concert pushed total content on the disc to a potentially artifact-attracting 90 minutes.

Long story short, she wanted to cut some of the content. The problem was, each of the five songs featured different dance techniques and instruments—sometimes swinging lamps, sometimes burning swords, sometimes wraparound wicks. Cut a complete song or three and you lose that variety.

So, I suggested I'd pick a song and cut scenes from all five songs and piece them together into a music-video-like production. "Sounds great," she responded, and we moved on to the next point.

There was one problem, of course, that anyone who's ever produced a music video knows right away. You can't do this sort of thing on a budget, since creating a 4-minute music video can take months, especially when you're grabbing footage from (potentially) six cameras. It's also a bad idea if you need to finish the DVD in less than a day, or if you'll be leaving for a trip in five days and have 10 days of work to get done before you make the plane.

I did have a plan, however, though I'm almost embarrassed to disclose it. Kind of like admitting that you sometimes shoot with auto-exposure enabled, or (gasp!) with autofocus. Heck, I don't even share that kind of stuff with my wife.

muvee autoProducer

muvee autoProducer

Software to the rescue

But I knew of at least one program that does nothing but convert your raw video to a music-video-like production. Feed it the roughly 20 minutes of video and the 4-minute song, choose a template, and press the magic button. In less than 5 minutes, you have a fully edited music video that would have taken hours to produce. The go-to program in the category is muvee autoProducer, which costs $59.95 at I've used it in the past to convert raw footage of receptions and similar sequences in wedding videos I've produced (man, I'm telling all, aren't I?), but hadn't used it in a while. Best of all, there's a free 15-day trial, which was far longer than I would need.

Or so I thought, anyway. I'm firmly convinced that software programs, printers, and photocopiers can sense when you're in a real hurry—close to a panic, in fact, with blood pressure so high that your head shakes back and forth with your heart beats as you sit there waiting for something, anything, to go right. Then they crash, run out of toner, or jam right when you need them most. Since this has been happening to me for the last two months, I really wasn't surprised—it was more piling on than original insult. An affirmation like, "Yup, that's where I am right now." But enough about me.

Probably more likely, muvee just didn't like the MOV output from Apple Final Cut Pro—though it didn't care for the AVIs from Adobe Premiere Pro any better. I was working with mixed SD/HD footage edited down to SD, so I couldn't simply import the original files into muvee. Though muvee has proven reliable in the past, once it crashed on two machines (at 8 p.m.) with two different varieties of source footage, I didn't have time to diagnose the problem; it was time to move on.

Adobe Premiere Elements

Adobe Premiere Elements

My first alternative was Adobe Premiere Elements, version 8 ($99), which has some fabulous features. One is the ability to auto-analyze your clips, automatically fix shaky and underexposed video, and detect faces and dialogue in your content. When building an InstantMovie, Premiere Elements factors all this in and adds theme-specific effects, transitions, and audio, which works great with video from vacations and days on the beach.

When you're trying to circumvent hours of (what you're hoping to call) professional editing, however, the devil is in the details. Specifically, all of Premiere Elements' templates have effects packages that you can add into the video. The stars, picture frames, and guitar fly-bys in the music video template look great for shots of your 8-year-old playing Guitar Hero, but were inappropriate for what I was trying to do. And (here's the detail) you couldn't leave out the effects without also forgoing the transitions. In a fast paced video with lots of cuts, I like inserting short cross-dissolves to smooth the flow—otherwise it's too visually jarring.

Pinnacle Studio 14

Pinnacle Studio 14

So it was close, but no cigar, though I did feel like I was making progress. Then I remembered that I had the latest version of Avid Pinnacle Studio 14 ($49 and up) lurking around, and that it also had a music-video-like tool called SmartMovie. Interestingly, though it lacks much of the intelligence of the Adobe solution, it does cut the video into short, tasty chunks and insert them to the beat with dissolve transitions in between, which was all I needed. Sometimes (you know what's coming) less really is more.

I tried two themes: first the Fast Paced music video that resulted in a cut per second, or about 240 for the 4-minute muvee. Heck, at that pace, no one could tell if the video was good or bad. Think about 240 1-second clips for a moment, and you get a feel for the utility of these tools. If you did this by hand and spent even 1 minute finding each 1-second chunk, you would've saved 4 hours of parsing, plus at least another hour cobbling it all together.

Then I tried the Simple and Elegant template, which averaged about 3 seconds to 4 seconds per clip and seemed more appropriate. I rendered in DV, which input into my project nicely, and finished the DVD soon thereafter. I haven't gotten feedback yet, but I've got an item checked off the pre-trip to-do list, and I expect to hear great things. I'll report back next issue and maybe even share a link.

So. Maybe you're an event shooter, maybe a corporate producer. Whatever. You have X amount of video that you have to consolidate into Y amount of time, and converting it into a music-video-like production might be the ideal solution. You can do it by hand, or try one of the programs listed above. Despite my travails, muvee would still be my No. 1 recommendation. It's that good when it's working, and it probably will for you—after all, I'm the one with the black cloud over my head.

In the meantime, if you're traveling through southwest Virginia and overhear a bouncy, blond concert promoter crowing about the wonderful music video she acquired on a shoestring budget, this is our little secret, OK? In two weeks, I'll report back on how I enjoyed shooting a conference and (very sorely needed) two-day break with my new Canon Vixia HFS10 camcorder.