Friday, August 31, 2007


I hadn't written about Monday's day doing traffic at WTSP and you might have construed the silence to mean disaster had happened. Fortunately, no. It went a little more smoothly than Friday, though the rust still shows.

More explanation and a couple of clips in the video file below. It's in Windows Media format and it's going to take a while to load after you click on the play button.

Portions courtesy WTSP-TV

Later today, I go to WEDU, Tampa's PBS affiliate, where we're scheduled to edit my first story for A Gulf Coast Journal. Considering I made my first arrangements to shoot this story in May, I'm especially eager to finally finish. I'm also curious to see how such a disconnected procedure comes together. I shot it with a photographer I met for the first time when he arrived at the shoot. The station mailed me DVDs of the tapes and I logged them and wrote the script at home by myself. The script approval process with the show producer happened by e-mail. E-mails with WEDU's production coordinator set our edit dates. Then I sent the script to the program's host Jack Perkins for him to record the narration. A brief e-mail exchange is the only interaction we had. He e-mailed an mp3 file of the recording to the station. Separately, I e-mailed a copy of the script to the editor, whom I had not met until yesterday. We were supposed to edit then but the editor got sidetracked by other projects. I was glad to learn that he had received the script and Jack's narration and it all made sense.

The story should be largely finished by the time I can get to the station after work today. I hope that the show producer correctly assessed the editor's ability to work unsupervised. If so, and the story turns out well, I'll want to produce more of them. Let's get this one finished first.

Friday, August 24, 2007

TV Traffic Anxiety

I survived traffic again. I realize that's what I always say when I fill-in doing the traffic reports on WTSP-TV but that's the truth of it. After a few fitful hours of sleep, my alarm clock jars me awake 3:10 a.m. and I bolt out of bed before I give myself the chance to fall back asleep. That's the single biggest source of anxiety surrounding the job: Failing to show up.

I worry about whether the computer will work. I worry about whether I'll remember how to work the computer. I worry about remembering the anchor's names. I worry about saying something stupid enough to land me on YouTube. But mostly I worry that I'll wake up 20 minutes before I'm supposed to go on the air at a TV station that's a 25 minute drive away.

This morning was my fourth day this year. I joked off camera that Meredyth Censullo, the regular (and very good) traffic anchor, gets separation anxiety when she's away from work for too long. I was only half kidding. Before I landed the job as her backup, she had happily worked more than a year without a day off. Since I started, her longest absense has been four days. And that was for a family emergency.

So I'm rarely there. Adding to the strangeness is the fact that I do not watch the program on which I occasionally appear. I don't have cable or satellite TV at home and WTSP's signal comes in very poorly. Plus, if I'm awake before 7 a.m., I'm at the gym or on the way there. It adds up to an almost surreal experience. I get up at an ungodly hour and drive to a foreign place to do a job I've done only a handful of times. At least I'm familiar with the roads I'm talking about or it would be Twilight Zone weird.

Why do a job that apparenlty causes me so much anxiety? A few reasons. It's another way to stay in touch with the business. It looks good on a resume. The people at WTSP have treated me wonderfully. And if I can't relax enough to enjoy doing the job, I do feel good once I've finished and can say I survived. That's accomplishment enough.

A Scam Indeed?

I got an interesting piece of mail yesterday that immediately screamed "SCAM!" at me.

An outfit calling itself "FL Certified Deed Services" sent me a letter offering me a "Certified Copy of your Deed." "If you don't already have this important document," the letter states, "you should obtain one NOW." Conveniently enough, FL Certified Deed Services will do it for me for a mere $65.00, plus $4.95 for shipping and handling.

Let's forget for a moment that I can call the Hillsborough County Clerk of Circuit Court's office myself (Phone: 813-276-8100, ext. 3461 for the Official Records Department) and get a certified copy of my deed for less than $10. It costs $2.50 per page. The woman I spoke to said that deeds generally run 1-3 pages.

If I don't need a certified copy, I can get one for free from the Clerk's web site. In fact, I did.

I logged on to, and clicked "Online Services" on the left-hand side of the page. That offers a drop-down menu. I clicked "Online Searches" then "Search Official Records." I agreed to the disclaimer and it took me to the search page. I typed my name in, specified a date range, hit "Search" and up came the matching record. I clicked on that and the site generated a PDF file of my deed. Done.

Even before I took the time to discover that, some things about the letter smelled fishy. It explained that the deed to my property was recorded by the "Hillsborough County Register's office." No such office exists. The letter cited the "U.S. Government Federal Citizen Information Center" as recommending that property owners have a certified copy of their deed. But Google "U.S. Government Federal Citizen Information Center" and you learn that there is no office by that name. In fact most of the results point to articles and even government sites warning people away from these "deed services" offering the same overpriced deal.

It doesn't help its case that FL Deed Services says it's located in Miami but the phone number to which you fax your order (609-360-0416) has the area code of Trenton, New Jersey. Google that and you find that NY Deed Services also uses the same number.

And the final giveaway is at the bottom of the page:

FL Certified Deed Services is not affiliated
with the "State of Florida."

These aren't technically scams. But if I sent you a letter offering to order a pizza for you for 80 bucks, you'd know that you can call Papa John's yourself and have one delivered for a fraction of that price. When I asked the woman at the Clerk's office about the letter I had received from FL Certified Deed Services, she replied with a question of her own: "Do you have a garbage can?"

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sunken Gardens 2

As mentioned, I toted my HD camera with me to Sunken Gardens in St. Pete Sunday. I remembered to shoot shots specifically for me to use with the green screen. Unfortunately, I did not remember my bug spray. Don't worry. No shots of my mosquito-ravaged legs appear.

I did script this one, which is why I speak so much faster in this one than I did in the Big Cat Rescue story. Again, I wasn't too concerned about the performance. I mostly wanted to work with editing HDV and using the green screen. One cool thing about the green screen is that I can shoot myself centered in front of it, then move myself to different positions in the frame in editing.

It takes the video some time to load so don't panic when you press the play button and nothing happens. It will. That's when you panic.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sunken Gardens 1

The next green screen test I will create entirely from video. I took my camera to Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg Sunday. Nobody looked at me funny when I ambled up to the ticket counter with my big lens camera. They probably don't care what kind of camera you have as long as you’re willing to pony up the $8 admission fee.

The images in the slide show below are still frames from the video I shot. I haven’t shot my part in front of the green screen yet. I might script this one to see if the time that saves in editing is more than the time it takes to write it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

More HD Green Screen Test

Windows Media Version of the HD Green Screen Test below. Again this was ad-libbed and its purpose was to try out my HD camera in front of the green screen and to practice editing using the chroma key feature.

The video above may take a moment to
load depending on your connection speed.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

HD Green Screen Test

It works. Not like it's supposed to, probably, but I figured something out. I usually do. I did some poking around Internet forums and some playing around with my video editing program, Adobe Premiere Pro, and eventually found a way to generate the QuickTime movie below.

Don't judge the on-camera performance too critically. Speaking extemporaneously is not one of my gifts. There was no script, though I did have my laptop with the thumbnails of the photos nearby for reference. That's what you see me looking down at periodically. I did edit parts out where I talked too long about things I didn't have pictures of. That cut the running time from almost 15 minutes to just over nine.

I was also able to burn a DVD and to create a Windows Media File, which is a smaller file size but looks better than the QuickTime movie. I'll post that here when I get chance.

For more on the controversial history of Big Cat Rescue and its founder, check out this article in the St. Petersburg Times.

Trial and Errors

I finished the HD green screen test last night. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to show it to you yet. Let's see if I can explain this.

My HDV camera shoots frames that measure 1280 by 720 pixels. That's what I see in my Adobe Premiere Pro video editing program. If I use only video shot with that camera, it's fine. You can see that in the first HD test I posted.

But this time, I used an animated background and photographs of different dimensions. When I import them into Premiere Pro and add them to the video timeline, I can get them properly framed in the monitor window. Within the program the video plays in its proper 16:9 aspect ratio and looks like it should, as the still frame capture below shows.

The problem comes when I try to export the finished movie. When I export it as an AVI file, look what happens:

Instead of the 16:9 ratio, it creates a video file that's 4:3. Worse, it shows parts of the background photo that are supposed to be cropped just like in the first still frame capture. Back on the original HD test, I couldn't tell there was a problem because there was no background (or foreground, in the instances where I cover my face with a photo or video) so when creating the AVI file the extra space above and below the frame showed up black -- the so called "letterboxing" effect.

Premiere Pro has encoding software for other formats so I tried some. Flash video (FLV) would be great, that's the most easily viewed by Internet browsers, so it would work better here than the QuickTime movies I usually use. So I tried that.

Oops. That's not good. I noticed that in the place where I want to save the Flash file I'm creating, it makes the file but adds a ".mov" end the end of the file name. Something like this: "" which is obviously not right.

What about QuickTime? That seemed to work. I could adjust the dimensions so that it would create a 16:9 file. Great! But when I played the QuickTime movie, the audio and video came unsynched about a minute or so into it. By two to three seconds. It did not seem to get progressively worse as the file played. The audio began lagging suddenly and stayed the same distance behind for the rest of the movie. The video turned white when the last video frame ended as the audio kept going.

I made a Windows Media file but that had the same problems as the AVI. I exported the movie as an MPEG2 file but the file it created had a .m2t suffix that my computer didn't recognize. I tried to burn a DVD from the timeline but it would create only a 720x480 size, not only the wrong aspect ratio but much smaller than the 1280x720. And it didn't shrink the video to fit in the frame, it simply cropped it.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I've got some research to do before I can show you how well (I think) my green screen test worked. I'd look in my Adobe user guide but it's not really helpful. They want you to buy the tutorial. It's not enough to pay for the program. Adobe wants you to pay again if you want to learn how to use it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I shot my HD green screen test last night and hoped to have a clip for your visual consumption by now but rendering the green screen effects plus photographs takes FOREVER!

Here is a still frame:

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Total time for the project is about 11 minutes right now and I've completed about 4:30 of that. There could be more cuts as I go. But if I have enough pictures to cover my rambling recollection of my trip to Big Cat Rescue, I'll let it go. If I can't be self-indulgent on my own blog, where can I?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Big Cat Rescue

I plan to do a green screen test in HD soon. When I do, I'll talk more about the tour of Big Cat Rescue I took Saturday. It's a sanctuary for big cats retired from roadside acts or people who thought they'd make cool pets only to realize they don't.

The organizaton's web site features bios of the animals it houses. The site also has information about its guided tours. The place is not without controversy, as outlined in a St. Petersburg Times article.

Because it was created to serve as a sanctuary for the cats rather than as a venue to display them, it's not a great place to go if you're primarily interested in taking photographs. I took almost 170 pictures when I went. The fencing gets in the way of most of them.

As you can see for yourself: