The Making of the ‘Virtuoso’ DVD

This is a post originally found here on the Lost Art Press blog.

Chris asked me to write a couple blog posts to give you a little insight into what went in to compiling the DVD companion to Don Williams’s amazing book “Virtuoso.” In addition to that I’ve been given the unpleasant task of introducing myself and giving a little background while trying not to sound like a salesman with my resume.

I was a freelance recording engineer here in Nashville who opted for early retirement. I had a decent career for 12 years and got to work with a lot of great known and unknown artists and musicians. The music industry has changed drastically in recent years. My old job as recording engineer/producer is one that is especially being phased out so I hung up my microphones and (helped) produce a kid instead. I’m mostly a stay-at-home dad now and work part time at an old-school hardware store.

In the past few years I’ve done some audio work for Lost Art Press. I mastered “The Joiner and the Cabinet Maker” and did audio restoration on “The Naked Woodworker” DVD. I come from the audio world, and I was taken aback when Chris asked me to edit a DVD about the Studley tool cabinet. I thought that it would be a chance of a lifetime, and I also thought that someone else should do it. I warned Chris of my lack of experience, but he was adamant that a woodworker should edit this DVD. I like a challenge and couldn’t pass on the opportunity.

Once I started work I quickly figured out why Chris wanted a woodworker first and foremost. I was given more than eight hours of interviews and snippets, an hour of video of them unloading the cabinet and more than 60 gigabytes of pictures (an insane amount!). The DVD needed to be about an hour long. I had at least four hours of mesmerizing content that many woodworkers would love to see. Don’s passion and knowledge about Studley’s work is galvanizing. Narayan’s photographs show more intricacies and subtleties than I ever imagined. To put it mildly, given the raw materials I was handed, the blame would lie squarely on my shoulders if the end product was not entertaining and at least somewhat inspiring.

The first thing I did was watch all of the footage while taking notes on everything that was said, topics covered, tools discussed, even outtake conversations between Don, Narayan and Chris (I had hoped to decipher the location of the collection given this insider information… I still have no clue). After that I watched all of the footage again and began to pull my favorite bits, organizing them by subject. The hard part was there was no outline or script for what the finished video should be. Soon I realized that Don had been kind enough to write an entire book on the subject, and I decided to sort the clips into chapters that corresponded with the book. This “chapter concept” might seem obvious now but at the time it was revolutionary to me and the organization of the video quickly fell into place.

In the recording studio I used to pride myself for being able to assemble a vocal track or guitar solo encompassing all of the best parts of what the artist did into one “super recording” (we called them a “comp” or “composite track”). Editing this video used the same brain synapses. First, go over the multiple times someone discusses a particular subject. Whittle it down into one clip that simply states the point they were trying to make. Make sure there are no “umms” or stutters. On top of that, put mesmerizing pictures focusing on what they are talking about. The whole time keep a ukulele around to plunk out a melody or two that comes to your head… really.

Boom… now you too can edit a DVD about Studley’s tool cabinet and workbench.

In actuality it was a little more complicated than that. After the initial edit of each chapter I would come back the next night and re-edit and smooth things out a bit. Then I would add in the pictures and b-roll footage, followed by another smoothing edit, followed by the music, which I’ll discuss in another post.

As with any editing project be it video, music or a furniture design it’s nearly impossible to fit all of your favorite parts in because they just don’t work with the flow or the overall narrative. A few times I found myself watching a clip over and over again trying to figure out how I could make it work. As a woodworker I would be enthralled by a clip but as an editor I knew technically it’d flow better without it. My wife would remind me that if I was getting excited about something as a woodworker chances are that the Lost Art Press faithful would as well. Those side-notes are my favorite parts of the video. I say this to illustrate the fact that first and foremost (and with the encouragement of my wife) I tried to make a video that I’d want to watch.

I will always be a little bit heartbroken that I didn’t make the pilgrimage to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the exhibit of the cabinet and workbench. I let day-to-day life get in the way of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m so glad that Chris offered me another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of the telling of an amazing story.

— Ben Strano

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