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Book:   Digital Video Hacks
Subject:   The best amateur video book I've read!
Date:   2007-09-18 06:18:37
From:   Joe Kawano
Rating:  StarStarStarStarStar

Digital Video Hacks

A compilation of tips and tricks ("hacks") for organizing, shooting, editing and distributing video in DV formats, Digital Video Hacks is an encyclopedia "how-to" guide to making digital video. This book is not for the "video virgin", someone who has never picked up a video camera - while professionals who've been making their living in the industry for several years will probably find only a few (if any) of the tips in this book to be helpful. Professionals at that level could probably write the entries in this book - which is in fact what happened.
Digital Video Hacks is an assortment of video techniques, written by multiple authors in various specialties. As such, the entries vary in their presentation, style and thoroughness. The article on "making your own green screen" lays out all the materials you will need, their relative expenses, potential hazards and pitfalls and goes into quite a bit of detail on how to finish your project, while the "bullet-time effect" article gives you a more basic layout of how to set up multiple cameras, and then glosses over the final steps with just a few obscure sentences on finishing your effect in post-production.

The book has a great "bird's eye" layout, as well as a fine-tuned internal referencing system. Cbapters are organized by large topics like "Pre-production" and "Distribution" while individual entries are segmented into single-task topics like "Labelling your media" or "Creating Matrix-style bullet-time effects". Each "hack" is given a number, and within each entry, references to other techniques are noted with a reference to other "hacks". (So, for instance in the "Removing an Unwanted Object" hack, number 64, a reference is made to using a boom mic which is referenced as "Hack # 53".) On the other hand, though entries themselves seem basically in-order, they seem to follow the organizational system of most video professionals at this level that I've seen: "Just make sure that everything's in generally the correct bin, and then we'll just rummage through to find what we need". Though everything is sorted into broad chapter categories like "Post-Production", within each chapter, there is no obvious way to tell how the tips are filtered beyond that.

The style of Digital Video Hacks is conversational, and the tone friendly. It is easy to read, and did not make me feel confused with stilted business/technical language. Unfortunately, the writers tried too often to be funny, and wasted time on unintelligent jokes that I felt detracted from the writing. Though I've read one or two instructional books thatwere witty and clever, the "humor" in Digital Video Hacks was neither - usually statements of the obvious with some very predictable absurdism or sarcasm thrown in.. The writers are good video specialists, but poor comedians.

Highlighted Content
Some of the most helpful things in the book were truly invaluable. Advice on how to "Succesfully Complete a Project" gave the low-down on what a realistic video-maker should expect out of doing video. Tips range from "Compiling a cheap lighting kit" to creating a black and white movie with only one color showing through. There is even a section on making a movie without using a camera, which details (among other things) online free-video-footage databases that I had really known nothing about! This book even contains odd-ball ideas like backing up your computer to a DV tape, and "seeing through walls"!
Advice on music, aquiring footage, storyboards, time-saving editing-tips, and audio-mixing all come through with good, applicable advice that most video-makers will need to know.

This book is quite informative, and is useful primarily as a reference. When you first get it, I recommend a thorough reading of the table of contents, and then a quick page-flipping skim of the rest of the book to see what's there and how it looks and works. DV Hacks will be a good thing to have on the shelf to look up instructions on how to do things from time to time. If you have the time, read it through from cover to cover and see what you can pick up.

Accessibility & Timeliness
Digital Video Hacks is not a theoretical or abstract work. Its "hacks" are purely practical and hands-on. Rather than making nebulous statements about how effects generally be acheived in non-linear editors, entries break down practical, step-by-step instructions for each of the major editing systems intermediate video professionals are apt to use (Premier, FinalCut, Avid, MS Movie Maker and iMovie). As such, advice on converting file-formats, applying CODECs or effects and other tasks, usually centers around specific products or software. With each software item (or most physical products to buy, in the case of production), an web address is given, along with a cost in (presumably U.S.) dollars. This is excellent for those ready to immediately put these techniques to use, but also puts something of a cap on the shelf-life of this book. Keep it handy, but if you're going to get it - now's the time! Even though most of the information in this book is probably available online in numerous "how-to" sites, much of it I would not have even thought to search for! As a result, this book is a definite plus for the library of anyone who takes a serious interest in the realm of digital media production.