By Brian Leopold
If you’ve ever had the desire to build an accurate model of the maze from Stanley Kubrick’s movie, “The Shining,” then Tested might be the website for you. If you can’t wait to try out the latest virtual reality headset, or check out the newest features on your upgraded iPhone, then Tested could also be the website for you. And if you’re dying to find out what Adam Savage and Jamie Heinemann are up to now that Mythbusters has moved on, then Tested is definitely the website for you.
Every week, the popular site pushes out hours of video content devoted to technology, the DIY builder community, and the world of video game play. Video Producer, Joey Fameli has been with Tested since its beginnings in 2010, and he’s the only production person on staff. As such, he’s responsible for creating all that content.
Fans of the site have come to expect new content to be posted on an almost daily basis, and they’ve also come to expect this video content to be more than just a quick hit. Satisfying this insatiable demand and producing the necessary hours of long-format video with a one-man production crew, has turned out to be an incredible challenge for Fameli and it’s forced him to create segments that can be recorded as if they were live. When the team is shooting on location in their San Francisco studio, Fameli has devised a unique production strategy that allows him to record as many as five hour-long multi-camera videos in a single day of shooting, all without the help of any additional crew.
“We work much better when we go live-to-tape,” he says. “I think there’s something a little more organic about speaking to a live audience, almost live anyway. If I was to record footage from three or four cameras on our set and take that into post-production, I’d be looking at a day of editing for each of our videos.” Instead Tested leaves a daily taping session with as many as five full-length videos, ready to be posted on the site and on YouTube.
According to Fameli, what differentiates Tested from other builder and technology sites is the incredible depth of information the site provides.
“There are a lot of websites and video sites out there that cover a two-to-three-minute look at something,” Fameli says. “We’re the guys who do the 30-minute to one-hour videos, detailing every single nook and cranny of that project. And that goes for our product videos and product reviews as well. We go in-depth. The audience that attaches themselves to us are people who want to know every little thing about a particular build project or a technology that interests them.”
While Fameli remains the driving force behind the scenes at Tested, out in front of the cameras, the site is personality-driven, highlighting Tested’s four unique on-camera hosts. The site was originally started by Will Smith and Norman Chan, who still serve as primary on-camera hosts. In 2012, the site was bought by BermanBraun, a company that was working with Adam Savage and Jamie Heinemann, hosts of the popular Discovery Channel show, Mythbusters. After the sale, both Mythbusters hosts became regular contributors to the site, when their schedules allow. Adam Savage, in particular, has used the site to highlight many of his complex build projects, projects that that range from the totally cool to the totally ludicrous.
Inside Tested’s Production Studio
At the heart of the Tested production facility is a TriCaster XD850 that allows Fameli to capture multiple angles of a particular build project. “We’ve developed a program around our limited resources,” he says. “We have a lot of set-ups (in studio) that I can re-use, and the TriCaster makes it easy for us to eliminate post-production time and do a batch of videos in one day, then push out all those videos the next.”
Inside their vest pocket studio, Fameli uses four unmanned Panasonic cameras to capture the bulk of the action. Two of those cameras, Panasonic HVX170’s, are used to shoot the show hosts. These two cameras are patched directly into the TriCaster as SDI sources. Two Panasonic HVX200’s are aimed at the build project, and since those two cameras don’t have SDI outputs, (only component) they get fed into Blackmagic Convertor Boxes that push the signals out as SDI. These four main cameras are patched into inputs 1 through 4 on the TriCaster as SDI sources. Fameli also has a Canon C100 at his disposal, and occasionally uses it as a fifth camera source. This camera also lacks an SDI out, so its signal is converted through a Blackmagic HDMI to SDI Convertor box.
Fameli then assigns other SDI inputs to either computer capture or game capture, depending on the sort of segment he is recording. Those signals are run through a scan convertor before being patched into the TriCaster. Additionally, Fameli has the option to designate other TriCaster inputs for cameras he calls “floaters,” GoPro cameras that he can fit into a tight spot to give viewers angles of the build project that his other stationary cameras are unable to pick up.
The production studio at Tested is equipped with two 400-watt Kino Flo quad bank diva lights, as well as a four-foot Kino Flo Double system. Behind the set, two more Kino Flo Doubles provide back light for the on-set talent and two Arri 200’s are used as spots to highlight background objects. All these lights use daylight-balanced tubes since so much of the site’s video work is focused on computer screens and tablets which emit light closer to daylight spectrum than tungsten.
Audio from the set comes from the studio snake into a 24-input Behringer XENYX X2442USB mixer. The mixer pushes a subgroup out to the TriCaster that serves as master audio, and then, a second audio sub-group is sent to the set, providing the hosts with support audio, if necessary, something they need if they’re demonstrating the features of a newly released video game or the latest version of the iPad, for example.
All those audio and video sources go into the TriCaster and emerge as a real-time video presentation. Fameli has used as many as five camera sources on the same screen to give viewers multiple angles of the build projects the hosts are discussing. “I use the virtual set inputs plus the DSK overlays on the TriCaster as a picture-in picture-in-picture-times-five,” Fameli says,
To accomplish these “picture-in-picture-times-five” images, Fameli uses the TriCaster’s virtual set capability to incorporate two of the five video sources. He then adds a third source to the virtual set using the overlay input. Once he’s built his 3-camera virtual set, Fameli uses TriCaster’s DSK overlays to add the other two camera sources. “When viewers watch our build videos,” he says, “they can make each camera full-screen and get every single vantage point on the set for that build in detail. I think it would be too jarring to switch back and forth between cameras during a complicated forty-five-minute build project.”
Fameli’s primary recorder for these studio segments is a Ki Pro Portable ProRes File Recorder which records the output of the TriCaster’s program mix. “Then I have a second program feed going out to a Blackmagic MP4 Convertor Box that feeds to an outboard computer that records an H.264 version,” Fameli tells me. “The Ki Pro essentially records a sixty-gig version that’s lossless, and as a back-up, I have an H.264 version of three or four gigs, in case the Ki Pro conks out or something.”
Fameli sends two different monitor feeds to the studio. The first is a program feed of the output from the TriCaster, and the second is a switchable iso feed. The iso feed serves a vital function during the taping of build segments. “If there’s something on the build table that needs to be in the frame the whole time,” Fameli says, “the hosts can see it, and readjust it if necessary. It allows them to push things into frame.”
Accomplishing these complex, multi-camera video projects as a one-man production crew might seem like a disadvantage, but not to Joey Fameli. “It’s the only way I’ve ever worked,” he says. “The TriCaster acts as the fourth and fifth members of our team. I can set the audio and have that within reach and use my other hand to switch cameras and I’m capable of capturing everything.”
Posting All That Content
Even though all the video content Fameli produces find its way onto the tested.com website, the bulk of Tested’s audience sees the videos on their YouTube Channel. “Our YouTube channel is priority-number-one,” Fameli says. “A lot more people go to our YouTube channel than our site. We’re a personality-based website, so we’ve got to get those personalities out there by pushing the content out to YouTube.” And Fameli keeps the content coming, producing several hours of video each week.
In addition to all the build videos and product reviews found on Tested, the crew also produces a weekly podcast. The podcast is a bare-bones production, usually shot with a single camera on the build set. The TriCaster is used to stream the program directly to YouTube.
Regardless of whether he’s producing an hour-long, multi-camera build video or the weekly podcast, Fameli says the ability to tell a good story is at the heart of Tested’s success. “I just love storytelling,” he says. “I love meeting people who have these really fascinating stories about what they’re doing and (finding out) what drives them.”
When he’s in the Tested studio, Famelli likes the fact that his TriCaster XD850 allows him to tell those stories effortlessly, without having to think through the process. “I think the best tools are the ones that you don’t have to think about,” Famelli says. “The TriCaster has plenty of knobs and buttons, but it’s super-intuitive, super easy. It’s like playing a musical instrument. At some point, you’re just hitting buttons and moving keys and you don’t have to think. You can just get out there and tell your story and use (the TriCaster) intuitively.”
Fameli credits his TriCaster with enabling his site, not only to tell great stories about builders and technology, but to keep a steady stream of content flowing to Tested’s users. “If it wasn’t for our TriCaster,” Fameli says, “we probably would have about 80% less videos on the site. It’s the only reason we can push videos out and stay connected to the viewers like we do.”
At a Glance
- Tested was started by Norman Chan and Will Smith at San Francisco-based Whiskey Media, a digital company owned by Shelby Bonnie, cofounder and former CEO of CNET. The site was launched in preview form on March 8, 2010. Two years later, in March of 2012, Whiskey Media sold its assets, including Tested, to Santa Monica media company, BermanBraun. In 2014, co-owner, Gail Berman, sold her interest in the company and the remaining partner, Lloyd Braun, changed the company’s name to Whalerock Industries.
- Tested is the web home of Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, TV’s Mythbusters. Mythbusters is now in its 14th and final season. The show concentrates on testing the validity of popular beliefs, Internet rumors, and other possible myths. When the show ends in 2016, Mythbusters will have produced over 260 episodes, done almost 3,000 experiments and tested over 1,000 myths.
- Tested co-founders, Norman Chan and Will Smith are both avid adult fans of LEGO, and the site has produced several videos that detail the construction of intricate LEGO projects.
- Two Panasonic HVX170, cameras patched directly into the TriCaster XD850 as SDI sources.
- Two Panasonic HVX200 cameras fed as component signals into Blackmagic Convertor boxes converted to SDI and sent to TriCaster.
- One Canon C100 camera fed through a Blackmagic HDMI to SDI Convertor box and then into TriCaster XD850.
- Computer capture or game capture run through scan converter before being patched into the TriCaster.
- Additional GoPro cameras used as needed.
- Studio lighting package includes two 400-watt Kino Flo Quad Diva-Lites and a Kino Flo Double system as a front light. Two Kino Flo Doubles and two Arri 200’s provide back light. All lights are equipped with daylight-balanced tubes.
- Studio snake from the set provides audio to a 24-input Behringer XENYX X2442USB mixer. One subgroup from mixer provides master audio to the TriCaster. A second audio sub-group is sent to the set.
- Ki Pro Portable ProRes File Recorder used as the primary recorder for studio segments. As a back-up, a second program feed goes to a Blackmagic MP4 Convertor Box and is then fed to an outboard computer and recorded in H.264.
- Two monitor feeds sent to the studio from TriCaster. a program feed of the output from the TriCaster, and a switchable ISO feed.
More Articles by Brian Leopold
- Sports Broadcasting at West Virgina University: Feeding the Fan Frenzy
- Modern Video Technology Helps Preserve American Broadcast History