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Nine Inch Nails: Documenting a tour on DVD.

By Stephanie Jorgl
“When we got the show together for the Fragility tour,” recalls Trent Reznor, “and we finally got all the visuals and everything working, we thought it would be really interesting if there was some documentation of this—a record, a memento or just proof that it happened. Because when the tour’s done, it’s done.

“When we do a live show, it’s not just about learning the songs and playing,” says Reznor, mastermind behind the visually intense, sonically complex Nine Inch Nails. “It’s also about getting into the right framework to present the music in—the right setting. A lot of thought goes into our live set list based on what we think people might want to hear, what we want to play, what we’re better at and what could be a cohesive show.

Red Charlie
The Evil Keys of NIN. Charlie Clouser, in the red.

The next phase for the band is usually to work out the set and lighting. According to Reznor, rarely does the NIN set change—because usually there are just one or two set lists that end up working well.

He’d already made the mistake — on the Downward Spiral tour — of hiring a big company to come in and film everything. “There was a little Orson Welles, and a little HBO Bon Jovi special, saying, ‘No, you can’t use fog on stage, because the film won’t get it, so brighten all the lights up by 30% ’ and it looked terrible,” says Reznor. “And I remember that feeling of, ‘Here are people who don’t know what a show should look like, who are just coming in and doing it. So why don’t we just try to do it ourselves?’

Robin
Scary Wailer. Robin Finck backs up Trent on vocals.

“We wanted to film the entire show,” he says. “A few dates into the show, I felt a sense of pride, as it all started coming together.” The end result will be released in the form of the “And All That Could Have Been” DVD Jan 22, 2002.

Going With Final Cut Pro
At one point Reznor considered buying an Avid system because every time NIN ended up doing a video, he’d have to fly to New York or L.A. and sit in a room, working with someone who wouldn’t get his vision. “I thought, ‘If I just invest in this once, then I can provide that service to any of the other bands on the label. We’ll have an Avid set up and we can cut our own TV commercials, and we’ll get to do stuff in house.’ But I wasn’t real excited about the price tag,” says Reznor.

“That, and knowing that every year it’s going to be outdated by the next thing,” he adds. “So, when we made the decision to film it in miniDV and use Final Cut Pro, that made it affordable. We didn’t know exactly how we were going to edit the footage, but we decided to buy a few Canon XL1s, some Sony TRV900 DV cameras, and to film the whole show with at least eight cameras every night.”

Each day of the Fragility tour, Reznor and co. would go to the venue to look at the visual possibilities. They would contemplate camera placement to take advantage of the shape of the setting. If the show was packed, they would set up cameras to capture the crowd.
  An Endless Spiral of MiniDV
When the tour wrapped up, the NIN miniDV footage stacked up to eight tapes times 25 shows. “As I recall, that’s when we really started looking into editing, going ‘Okay, So, Final Cut Pro is out. What really can it do and can’t it do? And if we’re talking about massive amounts of miniDV footage, what are the limitations on that?’ And there wasn’t really anybody to ask at that point, because I don’t think anybody had tried to do it as ridiculously as we had.”

Rob Sheridan—webmaster and designer for NIN, and director for the upcoming DVD release—took the miniDV tapes and transferred the data into a multi-processor Power Mac with separate hard drives allocated for every song. “We didn’t know if the drives could handle it,” says Reznor. “We didn’t know the limitations of what the computer could do, but it ended up working somehow. It was a massive amount of video and an awful lot of FireWire drives—we didn’t even know if they were fast enough.”

Avid About Final Cut Pro
“Neither one of us had ever really put a full film project together and we figured most of it out without an on-site tech guy, and did the whole thing with stuff we just bought off-the-shelf retail and not with anything special, really,” says Reznor.

All in all, he found learning video editing to be a rewarding, yet very involved, process. In the process of learning Final Cut Pro, Reznor and Sheridan both went through the tutorial and the manual. They collaborated on the editing process.

Trent on the axe
Screaming Hot. Reznor grinds the axe.

“From Final Cut to DVD Studio Pro—it made the process tangible, and enabled us to do it,” says Reznor. “It put the power into our hands in an understandable and logical environment that was surprisingly easy to use.”

“I am not an editor by trade and the NIN project was my first editing project of this magnitude,” says Sheridan. “However, I have done work with Premiere and been involved with Avid sessions in the past. Final Cut Pro is far more elegant, user-friendly and powerful than Premiere, and from what I’ve seen, it is far less convoluted than Avid systems.

“Of course, what we liked best about Final Cut Pro was the ability to edit professionally on our home computer systems,” he adds. “Even on the road, we’d have Final Cut Pro running on our PowerBooks, and it worked great.”

Effects Minimalists
On the DVD project, “Our goal from the beginning was to represent the show exactly as it was live, so we avoided dressing up our footage with any sort of effects,” says Sheridan.

“In a couple of places we adjusted the colors a bit to match adjoining shots for the sake of continuity,” he adds. “Sometimes the colors of the lights came out slightly differently night to night, or needed some minor tinting, but that was really about it.”

yellow fire
Nails on Fire. The unmistakeable live presence of NIN.

“While our project didn’t particularly demand them, I’ve found that the filters built into QuickTime are very capable for what we’ve done.” says Sheridan.


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