Never Think “Fix it in the Mix” (a.k.a., “Fix it in Post”)

The “get it down, then get it right” tactic is valuable, but it applies to the creative process—to getting things going and to things you can flexibly edit and adapt. Like an Adobe Illustrator illustration. Or a demo vocal while writing a tune which you know won’t be in the final product.

It does NOT apply to things like shooting “the real” source video for a production or tracking “the real” audio for a record!

I recently did a project for a client that involved both interior interviews and an outdoor shoot at a rail yard. The interior parts went amazingly well, especially considering that in each case we had multiple challenges to getting good interview footage: lots of background noise, inappropriate (or just plain terrible) lighting, totally useless backgrounds, etc.

I was carrying a fairly compact rig (designed for air travel) based on a Canon 6D, a couple of Audio Technica lavalier mics, a Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic, and various lights, reflectors, etc. (The actual list of the “various”/miscellaneous items is huge, but other than a couple of light stands and the main camera tripod, all fit into one Pelican 1600 case.)

Short story: we pulled out some pretty awesome HD footage on the interior interview shots. The outdoor shoot would prove to be even more challenging, though.

It was 95 degrees, going on 100 degrees. Blindingly hot…and bright. I had to set up 6–8 shots in settings anywhere from the interior cab of a locomotive to outside on the scorching, pure white (as far as the camera was concerned) gravel. I was seriously wondering if we’d have to decamp to a nearby convenience store for water before I had heatstroke. It was so bright that it was next to impossible to see if I had focus other than by using autofocus and trying to pay attention to the f/stop setting. I’m talking serious “run & gun.” (There are, of course, some tools to help with some of these issues. I refer you, for example, to TheMultimediaNinja.com/1, the interview with Harold Sellers. Harold is a true Multimedia Ninja, an awesome shooter and editor, musician, and a very entertaining guy.)

I realized that I blew the focus on a couple of shots and managed to pick up spares of those. Unfortunately, there was one shot where they were referring to a specific part of a train where that part wasn’t even in the shot. On two others, one of the clients’ head was in the shot. It was so bright that (even had I not been cross-eyed by then) I couldn’t see these “minor” details on the LCD.

As you can imagine, for liability and security reasons it’s not easy to get permission to shoot at a rail yard. There was no reshoot. The client was not interested in asking someone at the railroad to go take iPhone stills to try to patch over my faux pas. The blown footage couldn’t be corrected.

Thankfully, the client understood and worked around it, and were overall extremely pleased with the output of the project. But I promise you, the same exact situation could have a much different outcome. Financially damaging. Reputation damaging. You should get the picture.

My point is this: You can’t “Fix it in the Mix” (as record producers say) or “Fix it in Post” (as their video brethren say). Autotune, video filters, hand editing…these things are cool for smoothing out decent recordings that already contain basically what is needed. But if the video cuts out an important part or is out of focus—or if the audio doesn’t contain the singer saying the right words, for example—then, buddy, you’re screwed…!

Even short of that, I promise you you will chase your tail and spend way more time trying to polish a “scat” (as Bear Grylls calls it) than if you just “take the takes” until you have what you need in the source material.

“Fix It In Post” (“Fix it in the Mix”) isn’t a good approach, whether audio, video, etc. The old saying, “Garbage In, Garbage Out” (or “GIGO,” in internet parlance) is absolutely true for the Multimedia Ninja.

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