Interview with Sean Riehl, owner of Real Bodywork
In my last article, I described how and when to use stories in DVD Studio Pro, with examples from the DVD that sparked the idea — Real Bodywork''s “Yoga Therapy for Back Pain.” In this article, I interview Sean Riehl, owner of Real Bodywork, as well as producer and editor of all DVDs sold by the company. Topics range from how to shoot for stories, how to produce for stories in Final Cut Studio, and how Sean encodes his DVDs to achieve 99.9999 percent problem-free operation.
Jan: Tell us about your company.
Sean: Real Bodywork primarily produces message-related DVDs, which was my specialty. We also have eight or so yoga DVDs, and all of them use DVD Studio Pro''s stories feature.
Jan: How do you plan a shoot when you know that you''ll be using stories?
Sean: I ask the instructor to create separate exercises that all begin and end in one or two basic poses. On the “Yoga Therapy” DVD, all exercises begin and end in either a child''s pose or with the students on their backs with their knees up. That way, when we link them together into a routine, the moves are seamless.
Jan: I''m assuming that your instructors are non-technical. Has communicating this been a problem?
Sean: Communicating how stories work to instructors was one of the biggest challenges. Some instructors get it quickly in one or two meetings, but some instructors took maybe three or four explanations.
With the “Yoga Therapy” DVD, the instructor got it and ran with it, and came back with 17 different small sequences that we produced into 11 different stories, ranging in duration from 15 minutes to 44 minutes.
In contrast, our first yoga DVD had four 15-minute sequences, but the first sequence, which started with very slow movements, always had to be first, and the fourth, which ended with a meditation, had to be last. From these sequences, we used stories to create four exercise routines — one 30 minutes long (sequences 1 and 4), two 45-minute sequences (1,2,4 and 1,3,4) and one hour-long routine that included all four. That was the simplest disc that we produced, and “Yoga Therapy” is the most complex.
Jan: How does the instructor prepare?
Sean: She came to me with storyboards of the individual sequences and a master key as to how they all fit together.
Jan: When played back by the viewer, each story transitions out for a moment and then the next transitions in. How do you make sure the viewer doesn''t think the exercise is over?
Sean: It''s important that the track fades out slow and mellow — maybe a three- or four- second fade-out — so it gives you a sense that something isn''t changing and that the next exercise will follow. The whole idea is to create this effect that each routine is unique. People don''t know what''s going on in the background, but you end up with this DVD with all these amazing choices from a discrete amount of footage.
Jan: Are there any “gotcha''s” with stories?
Sean: Stories are great for DVDs but a challenge if you later want to produce the stories as real linear videos, say for streaming or download. Now I have eight yoga DVDs with all this complicated story creation, and I have to create individual sequences for each story in Final Cut Pro to re-edit everything and get it online.
It''s really important to keep your key information that describes how the stories are put together. If you think you''ll be taking the content online, you might even create the linear sequences in Final Cut Pro while you''re producing the DVD and the flow is fresh in your mind.
Jan: How do you produce stories in Final Cut Pro?
Sean: We''ve tried producing each exercise as a separate sequence in Final Cut Pro, but it''s easier when you produce all the exercises in a single sequence. That way, if you have to make global changes to the sequence, you just have to do it once.
We input our chapter markers in Final Cut Pro, rather than DVD Studio Pro. All the exercises that comprise our stories fade to white, and then fade back in from white. Rather than use the cross dissolve transition in Final Cut Pro, I insert a white mask with a cross dissolve on both sides over the transition point between the two exercises, usually one or two tracks above the video track. Then I put the marker over the mask. If you''re working with a sequence that has a couple of hours of video, this technique makes it really easy to see where the markers should go.
Jan: Then you export an M2V file?
Sean: That''s right, and all chapter markers export with the file. It''s an iterative process, however, where you export, author the disc, view the disc and then return to Final Cut Pro for some additional edits.
You have to be extremely careful after these edits that your chapter markers are still in the right location since this can potentially cut off some later portion of the content, especially when using stories. We once produced 1000 copies of a DVD where an edit adjustment had cut off a sentence at the end of a story. Even though it was the end, the viewer wouldn''t know that because it just cut off. So, we had to write all those discs off.
Jan: I noticed that with your DVD, the clock on the DVD player is linear, keeping track of accumulated time. With other DVDs that I''ve seen that are obviously using stories, the clock resets with each new sequence. Are you doing anything special for that?
Sean: I''ve noticed the same thing, but we''re not doing anything specific; it''s just DVD Studio Pro.
Jan: What encoding parameters do you use when producing your DVD?
Sean: Good question. If the DVD works 99 percent of the time, it sounds like it''s great, but it''s the worst nightmare in the world. That means one out of 100 are having problems, and you could be getting phone calls every day. If you sell thousands of DVDs a week, 99 percent is horrible. What you want is 99.9999 percent reliability. So, we''re very conservative with our encoding policies.
In terms of data rate, we try to use 4mb/s or 5mb/s, which was easy on the “Yoga Therapy” DVD because there''s very little motion and there''s a simple white background. DVDs that we shoot outside have a lot more motion, but we never exceed 7.5mb/s, which has been the magic number where older DVD players begin to fail.
We''ve also noticed that older players can have problems reading data from the outside edges of the DVD. So we also try to leave a few hundred megabytes of space at the end of the disc to avoid problems with these devices.
Jan: It sounds like your background is in message therapy. How did you get started producing these DVDs?
Sean: That''s right. My formal training was in deep muscle message therapy. Back in 1998, a buddy came back from vacation with the great realization that TV was the wave of the future (laughs). So I decided to create a DVD for a class that I was teaching at the time.
That first DVD took about 400 hours to produce — complete with muscles built out of clay and other visual props. Digital video cameras were just starting to get affordable, and you could edit and author on a Mac. I converted all the deep tissue and neuro muscular therapy classes that I taught to DVD and then ran out of material, so I started hiring instructors, flying them out and filming them, and that''s how we ended up with 30 message-related DVDs. Then we started to make yoga DVDs, and that''s how it all came about.
I don''t have any formal training in video production, but I was an art major at UC Santa Barbara and do have a sense of graphics design, which is important. With every project, we''d buy a new piece of equipment, or take a new class and try something new. After about 40 DVDs, we''ve gotten pretty good.
Jan: You definitely have. I have five or six yoga DVDs, and your production value is about the best. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience with us today, Sean.
Sean: You''re welcome.