Things started with a one day sale on whole chickens at the local Whole Foods. The labor to flavor ratio on a whole roasted chicken is off the charts, and I wanted to see if I could get some others to cook a whole chicken for the first time as I had two days prior. I got Chef Tom of White Oak Gourmet on the blower and asked him how busy his week was.
TOM: Umm, why?
ETHAN: I want to make a cooking video for a roasted chicken meal, we can use my neighbor’s kitchen tomorrow morning for a couple of hours.
Turns out he had the time, WAHOO! I had picked up a new iPhone 4s for my UnPrepared Meals project, so I had a way to record, but without a paying client my budget was a bit thin. The two things I was most concerned about were lighting and sound. I didn’t have the cash to rent a light kit from Helix like I wanted, so I had to manufacture one. The videos over at Vimeo’s Video School were a good starting point, and my goal was to diffuse the light and try to bounce some off the ceiling to fill things in. I didn’t have a diffuser, so I held different materials in front of my garage shop light until I got a decently warm color. The winner was the natural colored tissue paper I use to ship out most of my spice rub orders. The second light was tilt-able and seemed like it just might work.
I had no money for a remote mic, and even if I did, I didn’t have Final Cut to automatically synch the audio and video. I had built a recording studio under my desk for my Korean taco voiceover work, but I now needed to be mobile. Empty box + leftover fleece material + staple gun = Abbey on the Road studios. I would use this for the voice work later, but for now my goal was to capture footage.
I didn’t have time for a script so my plan was to cook two chickens, one shot from far away and another shot close up to capture some of the culinary techniques. My guess is that within 23 seconds of trying to just ad-lib things I realized that I needed a script. Ad libbing for the camera is more difficult than ad libbing in front of a live audience. I immediately changed the plan to shooting the footage as best I could and I would edit and write the script later.
The audio side of things was a total bust during the shoot, but I was really happy with what I was capturing in the video department. The lighting worked really well, and the window behind Chef Tom wasn’t messing things up too badly. The mounting adapter I used to mount my phone to the tri-pod worked perfectly, and I was really excited to see what the footage looked like when pulled to the computer. Total shooting time was a couple of hours and then Tom was off to cook some more and I began work on editing.
I pulled in all the footage and things looked pretty good. I arranged the clips into a loose timeline and started to write the script to match the action. I then read through the script out loud to make sure the words and footage were in the same ballpark and then called it a day.
The next morning I went to Tom’s house (which contains far fewer children than mine) and started on voiceover work. We spent a couple of hours revising my script and doing read throughs to make sure the words could be said not just read. I captured all 5 takes on a portable USB hard drive for editing back at West 3 World HQ.
I mashed those 5 takes into 1 decent read through in Garage Band, and then brought it into iMovie with the video clips. Then I began the painful process of matching the two up. Getting the trussing bit to match the audio was an oil and water adventure, ugh. I drank a beer while the project finalized, and then pushed the file up to vimeo.com and went to bed.
When I got up in the morning I write the recipe and instructions and set the thumbnail for vimeo. Then I had people spell check and give things a run through on other machines to make sure the video hosted at vimeo worked for them. I designed some recipe cards that had the recipe ingredients (and in-store location!) that the butchers could hand out with each whole chicken they sold. Tom brought the file over to Kinko’s and then hustled to Whole Foods to see if we could actually pull this off.
There was no chance they were going to hand out anything that wasn’t corporate approved, plus there was a disturbing lack of food safety education/warning in the video. I knew that it was a 1:100 shot that they would use this, but it was a great project to have done. Tom and I had a silly blast doing the campy voiceover work, and I was able to shoot my first cooking video, AND PUT IT ON THE INTERNET!
Things I learned
- The iphone 4s has a great camera. The footage was really good to my amateur eyes, and most people were really surprised when I told them I shot it on my phone. The mounting adapter work really well with the tripod.
- The modified shop light more than pulled its weight. I know some of the detail was blown out in the whites, but overall the food and ingredients looked good. That was my major focus.
- Doing campy voice-over work for 3 hours straight in a tiny back office makes your brain a little silly by the end.
- WRITE A SCRIPT FIRST!
- WRITE A SCRIPT FIRST!
- WRITE A SCRIPT FIRST!
- I would suggest that your script is the first thing you work on. The food network people can wing it. Regis can wing it. Ashton Kutcher and I, not so much.
- Once the script is written, rehearse it a few times. There are a lot of phrases that read just fine, but are a nightmare to speak out loud. I was surprised how quickly Tom and I got confortable reading out loud to nobody in-particular.
- It is hard to find your voice. My first video sounded a bit flat and fast. I tried to bring more life to this read through, but I feel I overshot it and ended up campy. Interesting feedback has been that people that talk to me on a daily basis think it was over the top, casual acquaintances and internet eFriends think it is just fine in the tone department.
- Capturing live sound is going to be my biggest challenge. I don’t have the money to have a guy hold a raccoon-tail over everybody’s head as they talk, so that is going to be something to work on. If I have a set script I can record voice during the shoot, and then maybe drop a “studio” voice track on top of it. I have no idea how hard it would be to get that to look natural, but I will probably try that on the next video.
Two people that watched the video cooked a whole chicken for the first time!
That is a pretty cool return, no matter how you slice it.