A Normal Project
For simplicity's sake, we divide most projects into four basic stages: production, postproduction, authoring, and reproduction. During production, image and sound are recorded. Next, the recorded footage is edited into a coherent whole and processed to meet particular specifications. In the authoring stage, the piece is formatted as a DVD, complete with menus and any special features that are desired. Finally, individual DVDs are reproduced, along with labels and packaging if requested.
We shoot projects for an hourly rate and do not charge for preparation or setup time; if you are outside the Boston area, there may be a charge for travel expenses.
For many projects, one take may be sufficient, but recording multiple takes on multiple nights increases your options dramatically. If you want to highlight your actors' best performances, we can shoot on several nights and insert fades between scenes. If, on the other hand, you are interested in something which is not simply a filmed play but a film/theater hybrid, we can shoot performances or dress rehearsals from multiple angles; then, in the editing stage, we can reconstruct the play on filmic terms. This route requires more planning, but the results are often worth it.
Shooting on multiple nights with one camera, rather than using several cameras on one night, maximizes options and minimizes clutter, but if you want multiple angles on a one-night production, a second or third camera may be available for an additional rate.
We can record using the on-camera mic for no additional charge, but we don't recommend this unless the camera is fairly close to the subject. For projects with relatively simple sound requirements, we usually run two microphones directly into the camera, and for projects where sound is more complicated and critical, up to eight microphones can be recorded at once using a laptop and mixer. We have a wide assortment of microphones and choose from them as appropriate.
For lectures and presentations, by the way, we are happy to lend you extra mics (or channels on our mixer, if we're already bringing it) for no extra charge; we can set them up as we're preparing to record. If you need a P.A. we can also bring our Mackie HR824 monitor speakers and set them up for a small additional fee plus transport costsplease tell us well in advance if this would be helpful.
We charge a flat fee for basic postproduction, which includes trims and fades, color correction, basic sound and image processing, and high-quality titles. We also offer a large number of processing options, which are detailed below. For performances longer than three hours, some of the more advanced options may involve a surcharge due to the difficulty of organizing and processing large amounts of material; simpler options, though, normally stay at the same rate.
The postproduction fee includes basic editing, which should be sufficient for most one-take projects, as well as multiple-take projects where fades or cuts take place only between scenes. For filmic, multiple-angle projects, where cutting is more frequent, there is a separate flat fee. Other editing situations, such as removing unnecessary pauses from a speech, can be worked out on a case-by-case basis.
Basic color correction, which should be adequate for lectures and discussions, is done at no additional charge. This level of color correction, which includes balance, level and contrast adjustments, is intended to make the footage look as realistic and pleasing as possible. For performing arts projects, where a visual tone or mood is more important, we can craft any number of different looks, ranging from bright and vivid to warm and soft to dark and cold. We can also apply several processes that give your footage the characteristics of film, following either a "low-fi" route, which focuses on the grain, grittiness and texture of film stock, or a "hi-fi" route, which concentrates more on diffusion, lens characteristics, and overall smoothness of color. Either route, of course, includes whatever look processing you want.
Sound Processing and Mixing
We include basic noise reduction and levels adjustment in every package, which keeps your sound clean, even, and free from irritating ambient noise such as whirring fans or air-conditioner hum. (A small amount of background noise, of course, is natural.) We also can concentrate on removing other kinds of noise, such as honking horns, passing footsteps, or unwanted sounds produced by the audience, for an additional fee. For the most critical projects, we can treat your sound as we would treat a piece of music, balancing different voices as if they were different instruments and attempting to create an overall sonic aesthetic which matches the "look" of the piece. This option normally involves the use of multiple microphones.
Standard North American television displays 60 images per second, but, because of the way that televisions work, each image uses only half of the TV screen. This creates an effect normally associated with 'realistic' footage such as news reports and home movies. Since this effect is poorly suited to most artistic projects, we can convert your footage to progressive frames (of the sort found in film), which use the whole TV screen and display at a rate of 30 per second.
Our two simplest methods, field blending and field interpolation, can be done for no additional charge. Field-blending, which looks extremely natural, has a side-effect of smoothing the picture out, which works well in many cases. For projects where maximum sharpness is important, we suggest field interpolation, which creates frames as sharp as the original footage but does not reproduce motion blur as effectively. For the best of both worlds, we can use motion estimation and a slower but more advanced interpolation method to achieve images which are both sharp and natural. We can also convert your project to 24 frames per second, the true frame-rate of most modern movies, using a time-blending technique. The difference in effect between 60 fields per second and 30 frames per second is much greater than the difference between 30 frames per second and 24, but 24 frames per second provides the most film-like motion possible, and compresses better to DVD.
Our camera has exceptionally good low-light performance, but if the shooting conditions are extremely dark, some noise may be visible. We can digitally remove this noise for a small fee. If you need footage which is exceptionally clean (because you're going to be projecting it on a large screen, for example) we can remove as much noise as you'd like, but we don't normally recommend doing too much noise reduction because it can make images appear artificial and flat.
Some projects will benefit from being scaled to TV-safe borders, which results in a slightly smaller picture but preserves more of the frame. In some cases, you may also want to apply a mask to letterbox the image. Both of these options are available at no charge.
There are two basic steps involved in making a DVD: "encoding," in which the video is compressed and converted into an MPEG-2 file that fits the DVD specification, and "authoring," in which the remaining features and structure of the DVD are determined. We encode using the highest quality possible, but because DVDs have a limited amount of bandwidth (sometimes called a "bit budget"), we can prioritize either the audio or the video, at your discretion. We include a "press play" menu and basic credits for no additional charge (unless you don't want them); as with all graphic elements, we can design this menu ourselves or receive the design from you. Extra features, which can include chapter selection, background information, cast and crew biographies, audio commentary, subtitles, or anything else you'd like, can be negotiated; there are too many options to price them out individually.
After the DVD is authored, we burn a final copy onto a high-quality DVD-R suitable for reproduction. If you have a DVD burner and want to burn copies yourself, that's fine, but we can, of course, give you additional copies for slightly above cost. Blank DVDs come in two different types and several price levels; video quality does not vary, since DVDs are a digital format, but higher-priced blanks last longer and are more likely to play in older players. Burned DVDs are the most cost-effective distribution method for small numbers of copies, but if you want a larger run (over 100, say), it's cheaper and easier to use a reproduction service. We can handle this ourselves, or leave it up to you.
We can also design packaging, either on our own or to your specifications. We are happy to print and package your DVDs ourselves, either in jewel (CD) cases or in regular DVD cases, but if you are looking for a larger number of copies we can make arrangements for volume printing with a service bureau, or we can simply give you the layout files and let you deal with them yourself.
We do not do VHS transfers in-house; VHS is a lower-quality format than DVD, and making good VHS transfers requires extremely expensive recording equipment. There are several facilities around Boston that can provide decent-quality transfers, though it can cost up to twice as much as burning a DVD. If you want us to take care of this, we can take the DVD down to a transfer house ourselves; DVD packaging can also be adapted for VHS cases without a lot of trouble. If you don't mind a significant loss of quality, you can simply hook up a DVD player to a VCR yourself.