Book Review
The Little Digital Video Book

The Little Digital Video Book
Michael Rubin

Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-201-75848-2
US $19.99 CA $29.95 UK £14.99
178 pages

As a long time personal computer user and software junkie, I have a bookshelf full of computer software “how-to” books. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve only read a handful from cover to cover. Most wind up being additional resources to the manual, or “missing manual” and I use them like I do a good encyclopedia, skipping around to the parts I really want to understand.
There’s a better than even chance that you’re reading this review and smiling to yourself, having acquired your own library of computer software how-to books, also only partially read.

This book won’t fit in with those. In fact, go to your book shelf where you keep those novels you couldn’t put down once you started reading them, and make a place about 1/2″ wide and a little over 9″ tall to be the home for The Little Digital Video Book once you’ve bought it and read it through twice. That’s right, it’s even better the second time through! I promise.

The author, Michael Rubin, is eminently qualified to write about digital video. He’s the expert’s expert. He was with George Lucas in “the beginning.” His film and video text, Nonlinear, now in its fourth edition, is considered the hallmark text on the whole idea of nonlinear film editing. I have not read that book. It was not written to me. I am not a digital video geek.

I am…. drum roll please… a novice consumer video enthusiast with hours and hours of VHS and 8 mm tapes sitting there NOT being watched because it’s boooorrrrrring; and I envision hundreds of hours worth of incredible moments in the future that I want to record but that will also wind up sitting there, not being watched. Unless… an amateur such as me, could acquire tools capable of editing video tape and the skill to do it without fear of becoming the 21st Century version of Fred and Wilma boring their friends to tears with epic-long movies of jerky action and terrible sound, AND without taking out a second mortgage on the home. Apple Computer and others have been shipping the tools for a couple of years now. But who will teach me to use them?

Back to Michael Rubin. On the back cover of The Little Digital Video Book is the obligatory paragraph about the author. The closing sentence reads, “Rubin began editing digital video at home in 1998.” What is not mentioned is that he didn’t bring home an AVID studio to his garage. He “became an amateur video enthusiast” and using his prior knowledge and skill, developed a philosophy and a discipline that anyone, and I do mean anyone, can easily adapt to their own needs. The results of Michael’s foray into home video editing, combined with his professional expertise, have yielded another hallmark text, one that I believe should be in every amateur video maker’s library: The Little Digital Video Book, or LDVB for short.

Between the Introduction explaining results-oriented video to create what Michael terms “Video Sketches” and the concluding remarks sending the reader forth with new found power and confidence to do just that are 170+ pages in which he gradually becomes your trusted mentor and advisor. The first of six chapters covers the basics: the tools you need, why a miniDV camera is the best choice over older and less expensive analog 8 mm cameras, what software you will need, what the process of “wholistic video” entails and what the reader should expect to be able to accomplish with the skills taught in the book.

Chapter 2 covers the camera, tape issues, and time code. I can’t believe how much I learned in such a short chapter. After looking through the almost 3 inch thick manual for Final Cut Pro, Apple’s professional image editing software, and the excellent book, “iMovie 2 The Missing Manual”, by David Pogue, I still was fuzzy on the concept of time code. After reading the LDVB I now comprehend why this is so important, and you will too. Even after studying my digital video camera’s manual several times, I know much more about how to handle and care for it from Michael’s excellent tips on camera use and care. At this point in the book you become aware that the author is not just a technical expert, but a truly “experienced” expert; one who’s “been there, done that.”

The third chapter covers shooting video. It’s the longest chapter and probably my favorite. The last line in the chapter sums it up: “Ultimately, your finished videos will only be as good as the raw footage you shoot.”
This information will do more to equip you with the skills and confidence you need to start capturing video for editing than anything I’ve read or watched to date. Michael is the master of conciseness without leaving you feeling shortchanged. This chapter also works on your preconceived notions of linear thinking when it comes to video shooting and sequencing. It’s not easy to think in nonlinear ways, but Michael succeeds in getting through to the reader with this all-important concept.

Chapter 4, beginning on page 91, is really a transition, to use an editing term, into the last two chapters of the book. It’s one thing to have a drawer full of photos lying loose and needing to be organized. At least you can look at the photos and tell what’s what. It’s quite another thing to have a drawer full of video-tapes with no idea what’s on them. Michael teaches the reader how to manage the video in logical ways that are not tedious. The chapter is only 14 pages long, but its brevity belies its importance. (There are pre-built PDF forms available for free at his web site, in the consumer section, that will greatly enhance the organization process.)

Chapter 5, Getting Ready to Edit, and Chapter 6, Editing, get down to the nitty gritty of actually setting up and succeeding in finishing the project. What good is it, after all, to have all the equipment for capturing incredible, broadcast quality sound and video if it goes into a drawer and is not appreciated by your soon-to-be adoring fans! Did I mention that this book is not specifically a Mac book? No? I think that Michael does an admirable job in maintaining platform independence in this book, while not apologizing for the obvious fact that iMovie 2 on the Apple Macintosh is hands down the easiest nonlinear editing platform to use, bar none. Yet, you and I know that as we gain experience and credibility with our “video sketches” created on our Macs with iMovie, our PC-using friends are going to want to know how they can join in the fun.

They won’t all respond appropriately when we tell them “Get a Mac!” I’ve been looking for a book to help them learn the basics without making them feel their platform of choice somehow proves they are subhuman. This book also opens the door to the idea that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a strange concept to consider a Mac for their in-home video editing work -station.
Michael explains with ample photos and illustrations just what all those different cables and plugs do and how they connect. In fact, he does such a good job that I was again thankful this book is slim enough to fit in the camera bag when going on vacation (or location, in movie-jargon.) Once the preparation phase is completed, the author wastes no time in getting to the crux of the matter: choosing what material to keep, what to throw out, and what to do with both.

Entire books could be written just on sound editing, lighting, or applying meaningful transitions. Michael helps the reader to understand why so many of the world’s greatest movie producers became experts in the editing studio long before they ever produced a film. This isn’t a book on how to use iMovie, although you’ll probably forget that from time to time due to all the example screen shots taken from there. It’s about turning 20 minutes of quality video capture into 5 minutes of truly memorable movies that beg to be watched again and again.

The Little Digital Video Book ends with last minute tips for archiving masters, avoiding copyright violations, output to VHS, CD, or DVD, and cleaning up your files when you’re done.

This book is for the beginner to intermediate user, those who hold to the idea that technology should free us to live more richly, not enslave us.

MacMice Rating: 5 out of 5

Jeffrey McPheeters

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