How to Shoot Flyball Like a Pro / by Chris Weigl

I've had the very good fortune over the past few weeks of being able to pick the brain of a great flyball videographer.  Dave Strauss has been doing flyball for almost eight years and has been shooting events for four of those years.  Dave is here to share his wisdom with our audience again in this guest post, which we are very excited to present to our viewers.

You can check out Dave's photography at: (http://www.waltzking.org/photos/flyball/

You can see Dave's amazing flyball videos at: https://www.youtube.com/user/DWS53

Flyball By the Numbers

By: Dave Strauss

In my previous post I talked about the basic shots I take during a Flyball tournament.  This time I'm going to talk about how I put them all together into a music video.

Anyone who has been to a Flyball tournament will tell you that tournaments are very confusing, very noisy, there are lots of things happening all at once, and you can't possibly see everything that goes on.  Even veteran Flyballers miss a lot of what goes on during tournaments.  So that's the feeling I want to convey - confusing, noisy, lots of action happening all over the place all the time.

I do this in the video by taking the shots and stringing together short little snippets of them (I'm told these are "quick cuts").  I've found that a snippet of around 1 to 1.2 seconds works best - it's long enough to sort of understand what you're seeing but short enough to keep that sense of action no matter what is being shown.

I've also found that a complete video of 2 to 3 minutes works best – it's long enough to show a lot of what happened at the tournament but short enough that people don't lose interest.  Flyball is, after all, pretty repetitive and you can only watch so many box turns before you get bored.

All told I need somewhere between 100 and 300 snippets in order to make a video.  I can cut this down if I have some longer segments or if I have some slo-mo segments but that's about what I need.  So let's just say I need somewhere between 60 and 200 snippets all told.

For each heat I can expect to get a maximum of 4 snippets (one for each dog); in reality I get on average 1 to 2 snippets per heat.  At 3 heats per race I need to shoot 20 to 70 races to get all the snippets I need - this translates to roughly 1/3 of all the races.  No wonder I'm out there with the camera so much!

Truth be told I don't think about it this way; I just know that towards the end of each day if I don't have 30 to 40 shots I'm in trouble – better get out there and start shooting!  If I have 50 to 60 shots then I'm OK.

Choosing the Music

This being a music video there has to be music.  I prefer to use instrumentals; I'm looking for something that's upbeat, bouncy, and driving, and that lasts 2 to 3 minutes.  I want the beat to be 100 to 120 beats per minute to match what seems to be the fundamental Flyball beat of 1 to 1.2 seconds.  In the past I chose the music for a tournament and kept it in mind while I was shooting, but for the past year or two I've done it the other way around - shoot first and find the music later.

I'm always looking for music that I can use that (a) is free, (b) won't get me into trouble on Youtube, and (c) has the right beat and drive for a Flyball video.  I've found that Youtube's audio library (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/music) is a good source as is Freeplay music (http://freeplaymusic.com/).

Putting it Together

I follow a basic outline for the video as a whole, with the video segments being (1) Title and intro, (2) music intro, (3) body, (4) credits, and (5) postscript.  In some cases the first two sections are combined and the some cases there is no postscript.

Many people will assemble their video segments and then put the music on top of that; I do it the other way around.  After settling on the opening shots I'm going to use, I decide where in the opening to start the music and lock it down at that point.  Then I start adding snippets to the movie one at a time, trimming as I go to make the beats of the video action line up with the music.

I don't worry at all about chronological order - whatever works best visually is what I'm after.  I'm also not looking for perfection - after all, I'm not getting paid for this so I can't spend forever on it.

I'm constantly reviewing the video as I'm assembling it; for example I might add 2 snippets to the video and then play the whole thing from the beginning to make sure it flows properly.  Hint - I'd better like the music I chose because I'm going to be hearing it a lot!  Also, headphones help if there's anyone else in the same room while you're doing this.

For the intro section I'll try to use something that sets the scene for that particular tournament.  So for example if it snowed during the tournament I might have a shot of the snow falling, or if it was really hot I might have a shot of dogs cooling off in a wading pool. It varies.  The one firm rule is that this part doesn't have video of dogs running.

Figuring out the intro shots and figuring out where to start the music are the parts that I consider the hardest.  I'll often try several different scenes and starting points before I'm happy with it. Sometimes I'll start the video on one day and then pick it up the next day to finish, just so I can look at it with fresh eyes and ears.

I always leave the original audio in the video snippets; I find that it adds a level of excitement compared with if I muted the audio and just had the accompanying music.  For slo-mo segments or fast-motion segments I dub in audio from other sections.  Note that some video editors will speed up or slow down your audio if you speed up or slow down the video; in those cases I mute the clip's audio and dub normal-speed audio from either the same clip or from other clips. For slo-mo box turns I try to time the audio hitting-the-box sound to coincide with the dog hitting the box in slow motion.

For the music intro section, I'll typically have shots of handlers and dogs lined up and waiting to run - the audio/visual hook being that the music is also lining up and waiting to run.  When I first started doing this I thought these had to be shots of start dogs, but later I realized that it can be any dog in the order.  So sometimes in these shots you'll see other dogs in the background running but sometimes you won't.

Each shot at this point is going to be either 2 or 4 beats of the music - usually 2 because the quick changes in scene make it feel more exciting, but since it's an intro we can afford to linger on the scene for longer if 4 beats works better.  Cuts happen on the beat - or at least as close to the beat as I can get it.

These music intro shots are all "starting" shots - that is, still (camera) shots focused fairly tightly on one dog.  The cuts to the next dog happen _before_ the dog starts running - this is important because later on in the video I'll do the exact opposite and start the shot as the dog starts running.  The point here is to emphasize that the dogs are waiting to run.

I follow a basic "left/right" rule when stitching the shots together - start with a dog facing left, then one facing right, then left, and so on.  I understand that this is one form of the basic 30 degree rule of film making, where the camera (viewpoint) should change by at least 30 degrees between shots of the same subject.

The music intro section lasts as long as the music intro lasts; for most of the music I've been using lately this is a fairly short time, but for some music it can be fairly extensive.  In the latter case I can spend more time setting up the tournament environment - see for example the video I made for the 2011 Survivor tournament:

https://youtu.be/Hw51oaLLLjo

I always start the body of the video with either a box turn or a "starting with pan" shot (where we follow the dog with the camera as it starts running).  Which one I pick depends on the music - if the music starts with a heavy beat I'll more likely use the box turn; otherwise I'll use the start.

As a general rule, I use starting shots towards the beginning, then switch to box turns, then passes, then other shots.  I'd love to have a section of just dogs swinging on tugs but as I said in my previous post these are hard to get so I usually don't have a lot of them. Towards the end of the video I'll tend to just mix everything up in a jumble.

If the song has a bridge section then you can use that to show some of those miscellaneous shots you took during the tournament - people or dogs doing interesting things.  This is a good place to show some of the setup or warmup things people do during the tournament.

If the song builds to a dramatic phrase of some sort, I like to do something dramatic in the video at the same time.  Examples of this are switching to slo-mo in the middle of a box turn or a tug swing, or sometimes a set of box turns or passes in quick succession - each shot being 1 beat instead of 2.

As the music ends I fade into the credits for about 4 seconds, then fade up into the postscript.  The postscript is usually one or more non-Flyball shots I got during the tournament that the viewer might find amusing or interesting or both.  Sometimes the postscript is the second half of a shot that was part of the intro - sort of a bookending of the video.

To recap:

  1. Make the video fit the music, not the other way around.
  2. Keep the shots short - 1 to 1.2 seconds - in time to the music.
  3. Follow a basic left/right rule.
  4. Cuts on the beat, each snippet 2 beats.
  5. Find dramatic parts of the music and treat them specially.
  6. Review often to make sure the video flows smoothly.

  Editing Details

 The editing details for each snippet vary depending on what type of shot it is and where in the video it is.

 As I said earlier, I do all cuts on the beat and each snippet lasts two beats (there are some exceptions to this but I try to keep them to a minimum).

 For starting shots in the intro, the cut happens _before_ the dog starts moving.

 For starting shots in the body, the cut happens as the dog starts running.  It often takes me several tries to get the timing of this right.

 For passes, I start with the cut so that the closest dog enters the frame at the start of the snippet, and then adjust the timing so the pass happens at the second beat.

 For box turns, I try to get it so the dog hits the box on the second beat.

 Tug swings are tricky, because often I need to track the handler and the dog for longer than the allotted 2 beat in order to establish the shot.  I try to get it so the dog hits the tug on the second beat but it doesn't always work out that way.

 Some of the other shots are also pretty ad hoc - I play with the timing of the cuts so that they flow well with the video as a whole. Shots looking up the lanes from behind the box are particularly tricky; the temptation is to track a dog all the way up to the box and back but that gets boring because it takes so long.  Instead I'll tend to start the snippet as the dog comes over the last or the second-to-last jump.  If it's the last jump then I'll treat it more like a box turn shot - cut to dog jumping over the jump, then <bang> the dog hits the box on the second beat, then cut to the next shot. The trick here to keep the viewer from noticing that the dog just appeared out of nowhere over the jump - usually this means that the preceeding shot was a very different type.

 I'm still experimenting with slow motion shots so I can't say too much about them here.  The key I've found is to start with video that's shot at 120 fps so that the resulting slo-mo is smooth.  This can be difficult to do in the low light conditions of most Flyball tournaments.  Also, I've found that going from normal speed to slo-mo in a shot works but that going from slo-mo to normal speed just looks cheesy. So with my slo-mo shots I'll cut to another scene to get back to normal speed instead of staying with the shot.  One neat effect is to start a shot at normal speed and then switch seemlessly to slo-mo; you can do this by splitting the segment at the point you want to switch speeds and then slowing down the second part.

 When I get back from a tournament, I first do a quick screening pass through all of the video I shot to get a feel for what I've got and to dump any shots that don't have anything useful in them.  This may take an hour or so.  Then it usually takes me about 4 hours of work to put together a 3 minute video.  I'll usually do this over the course of 3 or 4 days.  I find it helps to spread it out so that I can look at things from a fresh perspective.  When the entire video is completed I'll export it and then review it the next day before publishing it.

To Recap:

  1. Each snippet is 2 beats.
  2. Starting shots - as the dog starts moving (except during intro).
  3. Box turn shots - dog hits the box on the 2nd beat.
  4. Passing shots - dogs pass on the 2nd beat.
  5. Tug swings and other shots - ad hoc.
  6. left-right-left-right ... (30 degree rule)
  7. Review review review.
  8. Wait until the next day and review again.