In Part 1 of this article, we covered the process of creating a video from a collection of still photos. We focused on the technical side: cropping and processing the images correctly for video display, adding an effective soundtrack, and arranging the components on the timeline. At this point, you could simply output the video to a DVD or the Web and call it a day, but why stop there? Here's how you can get your movie onto TV.
It works because of a surprising government mandate. In America, public access television (also called "cable access") is a construct of the FCC that was started in 1971. Basically, the idea is this: If private cable companies are going to inconvenience the public by digging up sidewalks and roads to lay their pipes, and keep all the money, the cable companies have to give back to the community by allowing members of that community to come on the channel for free, stand on a soapbox, and say and do whatever they'd like, regardless of how marginal.
This citizen programming has to comply with community standards, but not always to broadcast technical standards. So you often end up with poorly produced shows where people rant about fringe topics; swear; and, depending on the community, even get naked. (New York City had a naked talk show for a long time.) You can't have sex on cable access, but you can usually talk about it in ways you'd never see on broadcast TV.
You can't sell anything on your show, can't use hate speech, and can't incite riots, but aside from all that stuff, you can do pretty much whatever you want. Cable access is one of my favorite examples of government bureaucrats actually doing something very cool. And they can't keep you off the air. If you follow their guidelines, and aren't a creep to deal with, they have to air your show when a slot becomes available.
Australia and Canada have similar systems; it's called "community television" in Australia and "community channel" in Canada.
Not many people do watch cable access, but many people can. My show was on five regional systems in Southern California, pumped into over a million homes. I don't know how many watched it, but a lot have the capacity to watch anything on cable access, especially in a large metropolitan area like Los Angeles, where I live.
Getting a show is easy. You call your local cable provider and ask to talk to the person in charge of public access. You introduce yourself and politely tell them you want a show and will produce it at home. You tell them the name of your show and what it will be. I said, "Stills of my cat and my wife and my yard, animated into video, with instrumental music I composed — and my wife and me yakking — underneath."
“If you follow their guidelines, they have to air your show.”
(You must have rights to any music you use on a cable access show, and will be required to sign a paper attesting to that. I use my own music, since I own it. If you do not produce your own music, you can get music that is free to use, with attribution, from the Podsafe Network.)
The producer will tell you if a slot is available now, and put you on the waiting list if one isn't. (If you get on the waiting list, call back once a month anyway, to see if anyone has canceled. Cable producers are very busy, and being proactive about calling people back is not at the top of their list.)
Slots are either weekly or monthly. Making a show once a month is a good plan; more than that can be quite a commitment. Some stations will play an episode once a week for four weeks; others will only play an episode once. It usually depends on how much time they have to fill.
If a slot is currently available, the producer will tell you what you have to do. Usually this involves going into the station, filling out papers, and bringing or mailing in your completed discs about ten days before the air date. You'll have to fill out paperwork for each episode, and you have to dot your i's and cross your t's, or sometimes they won't air it. Cable access producers, in my experience, don't go much out of their way to help you. They act like they are only offering this choice because they have to. Smile, be polite, but be proactive, even if they're not. Keep your side of the street clean.
Before you commit to cable, take a last look — or two or three — at your video. If you don't have a dedicated DV monitor hooked up to your computer (I don't), you will probably want to output a rough cut or two to DVD and watch it on your TV to really get a feel for what still needs to be changed. Watching on a TV is a different experience than watching on a computer, where you can stop and make adjustments.
I usually put a "title card" (made in Photoshop, to DV size, and then made NTSC safe) at the beginning. It lists the name of the show and the episode number. (Be sure to keep text inside the title safe area; see sidebar.)
I also make a short "outro" section with the StinkFight URL and a "more coming soon" at the end. Some cable access contracts forbid using any URLs in your show, but honestly, they don't usually watch them all the way to the end. They usually watch a few minutes of the first one you bring in, to make sure it's up to tech specs and contains no porn. After that, they usually look at it only if someone complains.
Older TVs (and there are still a lot out there) cut off about 10 percent of each edge of the screen. The idea was to compensate for a shrinking picture as the picture tube aged by beaming some of the image beyond the visible edge of the screen.
Computer monitors don't do this cropping. Therefore, to avoid ugly surprises, you have to make all text title-safe, which means don't make anything mission-critical (read: any text on screen) run all the way to the edge.
Keep this title-safe issue in mind as you create your show. It's essential for anything you plan to show on a TV rather than just on a computer.
Most editing programs have a place to enable "title safe" guidelines. These guides only show up in the editing window, not in the final output. Keep important video elements inside the outer lines and your text inside the inner lines. Anything outside this area might get cut off on some TVs. (This is probably the most common issue I see with amateur TV production — text is usually cut off on the edges, and it's easy to avoid.)
Again, make sure you check your final outputted DVD on a TV, not just your computer. And keep in mind that someone else's TV may cut off 10%, even if yours only cuts off 5%. (Very old TVs can cut off up to 15%.)
The printed guidelines from my local cable access station (and this is very similar with all cable access shows in America) were simple. Yet when I came back two days later with the DVD completed exactly to spec, the access producers were impressed. One said, "That doesn't happen often, let alone in two days." That's probably because most people making cable-access shows are learning as they go; I already knew how to edit media on a computer.
And you probably do, too. So this should be painless.
The guidelines the station gave me were:
NTSC-format, color-safe DVD. (I explained this in Part 1; basically it involves reducing the color range so the colors don't blow out or create audio interference. For example, pure whites and reds are forbidden.)
48kHz stereo audio. (Again, see Part 1 for details on making the conversion if necessary.)
Show length: two seconds of digital black, followed by exactly 28 minutes and 30 seconds of program material, followed by exactly 60 seconds of digital black.
No menu. The video must autoplay when put in the player, because most stations now put all the discs in a big computer-controlled, rackmount DVD jukebox and program everything a week in advance. If there's a menu, it crashes the whole thing.
No region encoding or copy protection. These can make a DVD not play on some equipment.
To this, I'd add, "Don't use printed labels; hand-label the discs with a Sharpie." It won't look as good, but they don't care. And paper labels can jam equipment, which will not get you invited back in six months when it's time to renew your show.
There are many DVD authoring programs; one I'm fond of is Roxio DVDit Pro. It simplifies making DVDs, and does a lot of the work for you.
First you'll have to output your movie to an intermediate media file that your DVD authoring program can import. I like MPEG-1 DV format. This is a good format for most authoring programs to import.
The output files are 13GB per hour of program material, so your half-hour show will be about 7.5 gigs. This can really add up, and you may want to get a removable hard drive to hold your shows. I really dig my 500-gig FireWire Western Digital "MyBook," which cost $162.99 on NewEgg.com. (Make sure you don't get one of Western Digital's other drives that has DRM for media files. That's useless, and I can't believe they manufactured it.)
You first have to render your MPEG-1 DV format file from the editing program, and then you import that into your DVD authoring program.
Import this rendered video into your DVD authoring program. By default, DVDit Pro (and many other prosumer programs) makes a disc with no menu, a disc that will auto play. You want this.
Put a blank DVD in your DVD recorder, then hit the "Burn" or "Make DVD" button in your DVD program.
The DVD program will have to "transcribe" the video and audio further. This takes about 40 to 60 minutes for a half-hour show. When the transcribing is finished, the computer will burn the DVD, and the DVD tray will pop open with your fresh, happy disc.
Basically, if you own a computer and a video camera, you own a TV studio. And thanks to Cable Access, you can actually get your work on TV and into people's homes, where they will see it as they're sitting down for dinner or coming back from the club.
You can make art that's way more creative than 95% of the crap that ends up on TV, and get your stuff seen. And if you put the video on the Internet, you have a worldwide audience. I'll cover Web video tips in a future article.
Yes, you can turn your stills into great movies, and there's every reason to say, "You probably should." To see the shows I made, visit my YouTube page.