Using Premiere Pro & Handbrake To Create YouTube-Friendly Files

A couple of people have asked me recently how I deliver finished files to my clients for web use (typically YouTube). Until recently, I simply used the Premiere Pro “YouTube 1080p HD” preset. However, uploading these files to YouTube often delivers or both of the following warning messages:

youtube errors

Neither of these make sense, since H264 is most certainly a “streamable file format,” and I’ve never actually had any audio/video sync issues with the files I’ve uploaded. Nevertheless, these warnings are annoying and disconcerting to clients.

So, what I have started doing recently is to export my files from Premiere as ProRes files, and then using the free video encoder Handbrake to crunch them down to YouTube/client-friendly files.

The nice thing about this process is that you can use presets to make it easy. Premiere actually allows you to share presets, so you can easily import the one I’ve made for myself. Right-click and “save as” here to save the prores.epr file.

Inside the Premiere export dialogue, select “Quicktime” as the format, and then click the “Import” button (the little folder icon next to the “preset” option box). Import the file called “prores.epr.”

import epr

Once you do, Premiere will prompt you to name it, helpfully suggesting the name I called it.

import_name

I use ProRes 422(LT) rather than other flavors of ProRes because I find it to be the best compromise between quality and filesize. If you prefer ProRes 422(HQ) or Prores 4444, you can easily change the codec and save your own preset.

codec

From now on, this preset will be available to you, anytime you select the “Quicktime” format in the export dialogue window.

Once you’ve exported the ProRes file, you can dump it directly into Handbrake. If you don’t have it, Handbrake is available freely here.

Handbrake comes with some very nice presets. I usually use the “High Profile” preset, which creates an .m4v file. Interestingly, the “Normal” preset creates an .mp4 file, and I’m not sure why the extensions are different, but “High Profile” is supposed to be better quality, so I use it.

handbrake1

Premiere defaults to 16,000 kbps (also known as 16 Mbps) for 1080p YouTube files, and for a short project (like a TV commercial), I’ll use the same number. For a longer project, I’ll drop the bit rate as low as 2500 kbps to get a reasonable file size. This is particularly useful when a client wants to use a video in a PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint running on a laptop chokes and stutters on high-quality video, so while a 2Mbit video may not win any eye-candy awards, it’ll play smoothly and still look pretty good.

handbrake2

Handbrake is very fast, so I usually turn on “2-pass encoding,” in an effort to get every bit of quality possible. Once the file is finished, I check it to make sure nothing strange went wrong, and then call it done!

 

Pricing Your Video Production

I was asked recently about how I determine pricing for my projects. The three most important factors I consider when pricing a video production job are time on location, time editing, and overhead costs.

Time on location is fairly straightforward: I charge a dayrate for myself and my “crew of one” gear package that is comparable to what other professionals at my level in my area charge. You don’t want to work for nothing, but you don’t want to price yourself out of the market either!

Time editing is always an estimate, because you never really know how long something will take to edit until you get into it (especially if the client has a lot of revisions). I used to track my hours and adjust my final bill accordingly, but clients hated the uncertainty, and I hated having to watch the clock all the time, so I switched to a project rate for editing. Now, I tell the client how much I would charge to deliver what they want, and that’s what they pay. If it takes me less time, great for me; if it takes me more time, great for them.

Overhead costs are things like crew costs, studio fees, meals, travel & hotel costs, equipment rental, etc. Basically, anything that I’m going to have to write a check for. While my dayrate covers my gear and me, larger productions might require me to hire a dozen other people, rent gear that I don’t own, and incur other expenses. Not only does that need to be added to the client’s bill, but it’s a good idea to “mark up” these costs a little bit (usually about 10%), because things usually come up that you didn’t anticipate, and it’s not fun to pay for it out of your own pocket!

It’s also extremely important to understand exactly what your costs are going to be, when you work with outside vendors like talent agencies and voiceover studios. For example, I bid one project based on the commercial airing regionally. Later, the client mentioned that the spot would be airing nationally. Great, right? Except that the fee from the voiceover studio went up by almost $8,000 because of national usage, and I was the guy who had to pay them! I was able to get the client to pay for some of the overage, but since it was really my mistake for not getting an accurate number in the first place, I still wound up losing money on that project.

When in doubt, remember one thing: you never want to have to go back and ask for more money!

The Untold Story of “Slaughter Nick for President”

Tropical_Heat

Rob Stewart as beach-bum detective Nick Slaughter, with Carolyn Dunn in “Tropical Heat” AKA “Sweating Bullets”

 

The indy documentary, “Slaughter Nick For President” follows Canadian actor Rob Stewart (most well-known for playing the ruthless assassin Roan on “Nikita”) on a trip to the Eastern European nation of Serbia, where he is a huge celebrity because of a TV role he played in the 1990s.

The Canadian late-night crime show “Tropical Heat” (aired in the USA as “Sweating Bullets”) followed the tongue-in-cheek exploits of beach-bum detective Nick Slaughter, as he solved crimes on a fictional resort island. Unbeknownst to anyone involved with the production, the show aired in Serbia during the Yugoslav Wars, where it become an enormous cultural phenomenon, and inspired a generation of political activists.

In “Slaughter Nick For President,” Stewart and his friends, siblings Liza Vespi and Marc Vespi, travel to Serbia and try to figure out why “Tropical Heat” and Stewart’s character, Nick Slaughter, are so immensely popular. “Slaughter Nick For President” is available for instant viewing on Amazon and iTunes, as well as on Google Play, Vudu and DVD.

Fortunately for CrewOfOne readers, the film’s Executive Producer/Producer/Co-Director Liza Vespi was kind enough to talk to me about this truly one-of-a-kind project.

“Crew Of One” Director Tries The “One Man Crew Director”

OMC_Wild-Dunes

Since I’m a video director with a blog called “Crew of One,” it’s only natural that I’d be interested in a product called “One Man Crew Director.” As a commercial shooter with 15+ years of experience, I love projects that allow me to hire my core group of freelancers, but often I find myself working on assignments in which I have to be the director, DP, audio operator, grip, gaffer and editor, all by my lonesome. On these “crew of one” jobs, it’s always a challenge to add visual interest and production value, especially to “talking-head” shots of sales pitches or interviews. Fortunately, that’s exactly what Redrock Micro’s “One Man Crew Director” (OMCD) is designed to do.

Q&A With “Heavy Objects” Director Fletcher Crossman

Fletcher Crossman

I had the pleasure of meeting phenomenally talented artist Fletcher Crossman back in 2009, when I photographed him in his backyard studio for a now-defunct magazine. At the time, Fletcher was focused on painting: his large-scale, figurative paintings – often incorporating text and political/philosophical overtones – made a big impression on me.

I found Fletcher himself to be a very affable British expatriate with a dry sense of humor, and the kind of vivid imagination rarely found in anyone over the age of three. We kept in touch after the shoot, and in 2010, we collaborated on a short documentary called “The Apple Thief.” The film followed Fletcher as he worked on a huge, controversial painting of a woman in a Christ-like crucifixion pose, while having challenging conversations with religious leaders about the role of women as defined by different faiths.

“House Of Cards” Style Photo Tutorial

I had so much fun doing a self-portrait in the style of the “Gotham” promo photos that I decided to do another. This time, I’m using as a stylistic reference the extremely cool b&w portraits done for the Netflix hit series, “House Of Cards.”

house-of-cards-cast1

As with most promotional images, all the copyright info is for Netflix, so I have no idea who actually took these photos. I suspect that the individual portraits were shot on a Hasselblad, probably with some kind of large “beauty dish” lighting, and then stitched together in Photoshop.

But, that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t do something similar, in whatever space, and with whatever equipment we have! Here are a few of the shots I came up with for myself.

House Of Cards style lighting

Without further ado, here’s my video tutorial on “House Of Cards” style photo lighting.

“Gotham”-Style Photo Tutorial

Gotham-Wallpaper

I’m a big fan of the new “Gotham” TV show. I also like the promo images that were done for each of the main characters. I couldn’t find any information online about who took the images,or how they were done, so I decided to figure out how to do something similar myself.

alex-gotham-web

Waveform 101

Back in the early days of video, tehcnicians relied on two main instruments: the waveform and the vectorscope. Even though we now have fancy flat-panel monitors, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these venerable tools – especially the Waveform.

In Premiere Pro, you can switch to the Waveform view by clicking on the little wrench icon under the program window.

Ideally, you want a full range of video signal all the way from bright white (100 IRE) to dark black (0 IRE). If your signal is all smushed up in the middle like this, it’s going to look muddy and unattractive.

Goodwill Christmas TV

I was recently hired by the good folks as The Brandon Agency to shoot, direct & edit a series of spots they’d written for Goodwill Industries. In time for the season, here’s the Christmas spot.

Basic Audio Processing in Adobe Audition

A friend of mine recently edited his first TV commercial, and got this note from the TV station:

I wanted to let you know about the latest spots I just put in the system. The quality, especially of the audio, is quite bad.
The audio levels swing wildly from quiet to loud throughout, making the quieter parts hard to hear because I have to set the levels for the louder sections. Some of the audio also sounds like it was recorded a bit hot and distorts a bit. Also, some of the voiceover and stand ups audio only comes out of the left audio channel rather than both.

Ouch! Fortunately, aside from the audio that was recorded “a bit hot” and distorted, all of this can easily be fixed. Audio purists may be horrified by my approach, but it’s quick and effective.