Get the Real Bitrate for Your Video Files

I’ll go more in-depth soon with how I’ve been loving the GH2, but wanted to post a quick free app I found that’s been very helpful in analyzing video files.

First off, I hacked the GH2 to get a bitrate of 44 mbps. Great stuff, but it leaves me with AVCHD files that need to be transcoded into something else. As I experimented with different codecs, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t undermining the work of the hack by encoding to something with a lower bitrate. But bitrate is not something that pops up in the Finder info window.

Enter MediaInfo. This totally free program gives you all sorts of data on you video files, no matter what the format is. So I can compare the original MTS file to the new codec in the MOV I want to analyze.

Very handy. Very free. Good for Mac and PC. Download it here.

Movie Planning, Screening, and Streaming Tools

Two Thursdays ago marked the long awaited Bots High screening day, a launch for the film that enabled anyone to host a screening of the film for free (plus they could tune into a live streaming Q&A). The highlights: 27 cities, 7 countries, and a release of the film into the world, for sale on the website and Amazon. I had hoped it would be on iTunes by this time but Distribber under estimated the iTunes approval time. And still trying to get onto Netflix.

Aside from the awesome people that hosted a local screening, it was pretty much a solo job to coordinate and market. But it wasn’t without the help of a lot of (mostly) free online tools. Here’s a recap of some of the tools that I used, along with the good, bad, and what I’d do differently.

Meetup Everywhere – 4/5

Everything started and revolved around Meetup Everywhere. Everywhere is similar to except the Meetups are all about the same topic or cause, in this case a Bots High screening. I’d direct someone to, Meetup would detect their location, point them to a nearby group (screening) or give them the option to start their own. Plus when people join a city, they have the option to give me their email. So show up or not, they can get on the mailing list. This looked like a really good tool to help people organize and find screenings based on location.

And it was mostly good. My biggest issue was Meetup’s interface and lack of documentation. I ended up serving as Meetup tech support a lot, even leading to making some how-to screencasts. Some issues: not clear on how to actually add your city, in addition to adding your city you also need to join the specific Bots High screening day event, and not clear on how a user can become recognized as the Meetup Planner. Another issue was converting people who just listed their city but didn’t go the extra step to fill out the form and confirm the screening, for whatever reason. There are about 50 cities listed on Meetup Everywhere, so conversion rate to an actual screening was about half.

Aside from hiring a developer to make something custom from scratch, I don’t see any other tools that would accomplish everything Meetup Everywhere does. I’d just like to see them tweak their UI and have better documentation.

Cost: Free

Wufoo – 5/5

Wufoo is awesome. This was how I converted the Meetup planners to actual venue hosts and collected all the information I needed. Wufoo is a really simple way to create forms. I upgraded to a higher plan for the event which would let me collect payment through PayPal. This way I could have one form for the host to fill that would give me their information AND the option to buy add-ons, like a Blu-ray screener or fundraising pack, and pay for it right away. Made things a lot easier. Plus great integration with MailChimp.

Cost: Free for 3 forms. Plans from $14.95 and up. $29.95 for payment integration plan.

MailChimp – 5/5

MailChimp is the best newsletter service out there, and as a company they have such an awesome vibe. I use this for the Bots High mailing list, and I created a separate list for venue hosts, to make communication easier.

Really good free plan. Pay plans are based on total number of subscribers in all your lists (plus you get a lot of templates and more premium goodies).

YouSendIt Pro – 4/5

At first I was going to send a DVD screener to all the venues. But with no money this would have been a few hundred dollars. So I honored DVDs to those that had signed up before, but I switched gear to deliver the file digitally.

I briefly debated putting it on Vimeo with a password, but a lot of these screenings were at colleges and they have a habit of throttling bandwidth. So the movie had to play off the computer, and a file was the best way.

I have Dropbox and a server which I normally use for file transfers, so I never gave much thought to upgrading YouSendIt. But sending an HTML link to a large file or trying to explain FTP is a pain and leads to a lot of issues and delays. YouSendIt is really good at doing the hand holding stuff to make sure anyone can download a large file.

The free YouSendIt has a 100 MB file size limit. Pro or Pro Plus bumps you to 2 GB, enough to compress an SD copy of the movie and ship it. Plus they were running specials for about $60 a year for Pro Plus (normally $149), so I got an account. It seems like if you sign up for a basic account they’ll offer you Pro Plus for the lower price.

Livestream – 4/5

I had done a comparison of different live streaming services before and I found Livestream to have better options. Account is free (with ads). It has an extremely impressive Livestream Studio, which is basically a web based video mixer. You can mix camera sources, YouTube videos, lower thirds, scrolling text feed, bugs, and a bunch of other professional effects.

They also have a free desktop app that makes the streaming connection better. Only downside is they don’t have a native iPhone streaming app. You can connect it to Qik and stream that way, but whenever I do my videos have a blue hue over them.

Cost: Free or $299/month ad free

Google Hangout – 5/5

Will and Liz, two of the main characters from the film, are in college but I wanted them to join in on the Q&A. So I had a separate computer hooked up to the projector, with the sound feeding to the live stream computer, and I had Liz and Will join in through a Google Plus Hangout. I was surprised by how well it worked – good video and sound quality, plus it automatically switches the large monitor to feature whoever is talking.

Cost: Free


Dropbox and Post-Production Hacks

Have a few hacks we discovered while editing Bots High. Our main challenge was how we (Andrew the editor and I) could streamline two computers working off the same Final Cut files (not simultaneously) to access the same footage. Some reasons for this – Andrew could continue editing while I looked for footage. Or I could pull up assembly editor project files to find clips to use in podcasts. Or I could edit some title cards in Photoshop and have them automatically update in the Final Cut timeline.

I’ve also seen similar questions posed on forums and listservs for directors and editors separated by long distances. I’ll explain what we did, but first a Dropbox primer.

Dropbox is an amazing utility designed to keep your files in sync across multiple computers. It’s a folder on your computer where anything you put in it is automatically uploaded to Dropbox’s server, and then synced to other computers that have access to it (or you can access it online or on your mobile device). You can also share folders with other users. Dropbox always keeps a local file on your computer, which was the key winning point when I compared this to MobileMe’s iDisk at the time, which only worked off a server so if you had some network trouble you’d get all sorts of fatal errors.

Now for the work flow:

  • The video files are way too big for Dropbox. You need exact mirrors of the hard drive your footage is on – same hard drive name, same folder structure, same movie files that you want to work with. These files need to be local on each computer you want synced.
  • Setup a Dropbox account. It’s free for 2 GB, which is plenty for Final Cut files. I upgraded to 50 GB because I now use it for everything.
  • Create a project folder to store all your FCP files in your Dropbox folder.
  • Setup the same account on the other computers, or share the project folder with the account on that computer.
  • That’s pretty much all there is to it. As long as your hard drives are structured exactly the same the project file will find all the media in its place and not bug you with offline media prompts. Just make sure you’re not working off the same file at the same time – I don’t know what madness that will cause. Because our project was so large, we organized the footage into their own project files, and had separate files for actual edits. So if we needed a clip, you’d just open the project, copy it over, and close it out.

There’s another reason I love Dropbox – you get instant, off-site backup every time you save. Plus it does versioning so you can go back to older files if you need to.

Another hack – later in post I would create a shared folder for the animator and composer to transfer files. It’s as simple as copy and pasting  a file, because as soon as it’s in a Dropbox folder it’s uploaded in the background and downloaded to all the other folders. Way easier when dealing with multiple files than YouSendIt.

So get Dropbox now. Use this referal link and we both get some free space.

The Biggest, Cheapest White Board You’ll Find

It’s always been a dream of mine to have a wall covered in seamless dry erase board (yeah, I have weird dreams). But just imagine having such a large space to brainstorm, draw, write notes, etc. I wanted to have one for the edit suite of Bots High, and I had a solution.

Check out this article on the awesome blog Cool Tools. It gives a few options to do custom dry erase boards, but the cheapest one is to pickup 4′ x 8′ sheets of solid white tileboard. They’re about $13 at Home Depot, however when asking the guy, they’re generally classified as shower boards, not dry erase boards.

Sadly, the edit lounge had too many windows (daylight! pfft) so there wasn’t a lot of backing behind the boards because of the window bay. But it was still very handy and is great for posting to-dos, notes, mind maps, etc, as well as notecards (as you can see in the photo).

My other dream is a wall covered in cork board. Unfortunately cheap showers don’t use cork too.

Dorsey’s Golden Gate Speech – Design the Beautiful, Build the Impossible

In the recent Vanity Fair article on Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and now running his new payment startup Square, he references a speech he gave at Square on design aesthetic using the Golden Gate Bridge as an example. That speech is now online on TechCrunch, and you should watch it below.

I’m a big fan of Square; It’s what I use to take credit card payments when I’m selling stuff in person. It’s very obvious that attention to detail and design are high priorities in the company, from the sleek and portable design of the reader (a tiny square that can be stashed in your pocket and fits in the headphone jack) to even the design of the system.

They’ve basically turned the entire model of accepting credit cards on your portable device upside down. No monthly subscription. Free credit card reader. They even dropped the flat rate they would charge per transaction. Now it’s just a flat percentage.

Design the Beautiful
Build the Impossible

Meetup Everywhere – Organize an Audience for Your Film

Meetup is a site and tool that allows you to create a group and organize real life meetups (remember those?). Usually these were location based (like Miami Movie Makers) so if you had a company or movement, you couldn’t really enable independent groups to organize and meet.

Well Meetup just fixed that and launched Meetup Everywhere, which allows anyone to organize a meeting around a company, group, or movement.

You’re probably already one step ahead (and are astute and read the headline). Meetup Everywhere could be a great way to determine where there’s an audience that wants to see your film.

When you list what you’re Meetups are about (your film) you could put something in the description like “Meetups with over 150 interested will get a screening,” or something to that effect.

I’m not sure if this has PayPal integration like the regular Meetup does for member dues, because if so you could self enable smaller groups that you couldn’t fly out to to have their own screening and have them buy tickets online.

There’s Eventful, which seems to do a similar thing. But I feel Meetup is really well established, and has a cleaner and simpler interface.

(I could have sworn there was a film specific site that did the same thing, but can’t find it anywhere. Does anyone remember the name?)

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