Video Remix: Tools of the Trade

Posted in Workbook

Here’s a guide to the tools I use to accomplish video remixes/appropriated video projects. I use a Mac (OSX 10.8.3 with Final Cut Pro X) but some of the tools I use are cross-platform. The tools of video remix, because they are so closely tied with pirating, are constantly breaking, changing, and evolving. The best way to find out about other tools is to talk to people making remixes. If you have any suggestions or favorites please leave them in the comments.

For getting things off of the tv I use a Series 4 TiVo with a TiVo wireless adapter that I got cheap off of eBay. I use a program called iTivo cTivo that allows me to transfer the video via wireless to my computer and convert the .tivo file to a usable mp4. iTivo is an actively supported program with a huge community, so when it breaks all hands are on deck to fix it.

For digitizing analog video, primarily VHS (sometimes 8mm, hi8, stubborn dvds) I use the Canopus ADVC-100 to pull analog video from its source deck and route it directly into Quicktime Player (FCPX does not allow import of  video without timecode/non-device controlled like FCP7 used to). In Quicktime Player go to File > New Movie Recording. Change the input from iSight Camera to your Firewire Device by clicking the dropdown triangle on the control bar.


There is a built-in hack for the Canopus that also allows you to bypass Macrovision (newer models of the Canopus ADVC may not have this feature so do some research first, last time I check two years ago Grass Valley had taken over production of these units and the hack still worked). A used or broken DV camera that allows analog to DV pass-through will serve the same purpose. This all requires a computer with Firewire. I have not researched importing via USB2, USB3 or Thunderbolt.

For getting YouTube videos off of the web I use the Firefox add-on called YouTube Easy Downloader. This add-on inserts download buttons directly under YouTube videos. I usually download the MP4 version with the highest video quality available. The file downloads with the title of the video as the file name and the file extension. Occasionally the add-on will not work when YouTube has been recently updated but the developers are good about releasing updates.

I primarily use YouTube videos in my work. If you use any other sites that don’t offer direct download of a .flv, .mp4, or .mov you can try copying and pasting the video urls into online web video conversion sites like KeepVid. There are comparable programs all over the web. At any given time they may or may not work.

For YouTube clips you can also open MPEG Streamclip and go to File > Open URL. Enter YouTube url and convert away!

For ripping DVD’s you’ll first need a computer that has an optical/super drive or an external optical/super drive. For retrieving video from DVD’s I used Mac the Ripper which no longer works on my system (looks like there is a $25 version available). Once you rip a disc you’ll need to convert the .VOB files in MPEG Streamclip. You have to go through the .VOB files until you find the one that contains the movie. Handbrake is another DVD ripping option if you would prefer to convert to a MP4 rather than a .VOB. Mac the Ripper will produce better results because it doesn’t compress your video but try whatever you can get for free first and see if it meets your needs.

I also use the torrent program Vuze to download full-length tv shows and films from the web. Vuze automatically networks with my PS3 so I can preview video from the couch. Needless to say there are varying degrees of legal danger for engaging in any of these practices so proceed with caution. Check out Torrentfreak for more info on BitTorrent.

Once you have the files on your computer you’ll need to convert them to a format that is easily editable. To do that I primarily use MPEG Streamclip. The format you convert to is up to you. I use FCPX, so I convert my video to ProRes since FCPX converts all footage to ProRes upon import. This speeds up importing into FCPX later since all it has to do is basically copy your files (into its annoying file management system) and do any additional analyzing that you tell it to. Once the footage is imported I’ll toss the Pro Res files I converted with MPEG Streamclip since I’ve got duplicates created by FCPX. You could also throw these files onto another drive if you wanted additional backup.

Why not just import an mp4 directly into FCPX?

  • I almost always trim out only the parts I want in MPEG Streamclip unless I’m doing a speed edit. Since FCPX is a major space hog, converting everything to beefy ProRes, it’s best to whittle down your footage as much as possible. Hang on to the original, tiny mp4’s just in case. I throw them into a folder called something like Original YouTube MP4s.
  • Audio. FCPX still doesn’t convert compressed audio well. For me this is the biggest disappointment with FCPX that you don’t hear much about. If you remember having to convert your mp3 songs to AIFF or WAV files in FCP7 to avoid weird popping and clicking sounds, the same concept applies here since most web video use the compressed AAC audio format. I still run 90% of my video through MPEG Streamclip first.

*If you do not need the audio and aren’t worried about storage then by all means import directly into FCPX.

I usually export the Quicktime Movies as unscaled and resize in FCPX which results in some extra rendering but the trade off is having some flexibility further down the line if you decide to change the dimensions of the project. I also like unscaled because it keeps the video sizing exactly as it appears on the web from the original uploader. This is extremely helpful because people do weird things like squeezing or stretching the dimensions without knowing it using export presets. When your eyes tell you the video is a little off it helps to know it’s something the uploader did and isn’t the result of your conversion process or editing timeline presets.

I also avoid automatically “fitting” video to the dimensions of the timeline in FCPX. Figure out your project settings before you begin. I avoid “fitting” so I can detect weird aspect ratios in the original video that need to be corrected. It’s also good to see firsthand just how much you are enlarging/upscaling a video to make it fit in your project. If it’s unacceptable quality I try to seek out another, higher-quality source for that particular clip.

MPEG Streamclip settings:

  • For Compression I now use Pro Res (just plain Pro Res, no LT, HQ, Proxy or 4444 ). This will probably differ depending on your editing software/system.
  • Sound should be Uncompressed and 48kHz. Frame Rate is up to you.
  • Frame Size: choose whatever is unscaled.
  • Web video should already be progressive so nothing needs to be checked under “Deselect for progressive movies.” If you are mixing interlaced DV video or analog video from DVD/VHS/etc with progressive video I would suggest doing some research about the best workflow to use before proceeding.

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MPEG Streamclip works great on most file formats. Try it first. For .flv files, I use an old version of the discontinued iSquint (2006) to convert them (I can’t believe it still works).  If you are unable to export a file using MPEG Streamclip or Quicktime you can use VLC Player which will play damn near everything and use iShowU to screen capture the video. It’s not ideal but it works. The only solution I have for capturing streaming video or video that doesn’t download through any of the tools listed above is to use iShowU (or screen capture/casting software). Quicktime Player also allows you to record your computer’s screen, but you’ll need to crop the video in post.

There’s a way to get any media you want to manipulate in your hands. If all else fails get a camera and record the tv or computer screen, hell, people spend hours trying to get a bad tv effect on their video in After Effects.

After converting the video it’s time to edit. I primarily use Final Cut Pro. I’ve played with Sony Vegas, iMovie, Premiere, and AVID. Every piece of software has its strengths and weaknesses, there’s no be all end all editing program. Make a choice, accept your fate, and get to work. Even a PC you found in an alley that only makes 10 second videos in Moviemaker and smells like onions can make magic.

Lastly be sure to read up on the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video.


  1. Liz
    July 18, 2013

    This is such a great article and really helpful for a newbie such as myself. Do you have any suggestions for how to rip film purchased from Amazon or Netflix as a download. I seem to find work arounds for the actual dvds but so far nothing for the downloads. Any suggestions would be really appreciated!


    • valdez
      July 20, 2013

      Screencapturing it on your PC or laptop seems like the only possibility since it is streamed.