Nine Inch Nails: Documenting a tour on DVD - dec. 2001
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.

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?’

“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“That, and knowing that every year it’s going to be outdated by the next thing,” he adds.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, 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 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.

“From Final Cut to —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 , 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.”

“While our project didn’t particularly demand them, I’ve found that the filters built into are very capable for what we’ve done.” says Sheridan.
60 Performances of Each Song
Handling the tremendous amount of footage proved to be the most difficult aspect of the project. In more than 200 tapes, there were around 60 instances of each of the songs from across the tour—ranging from a whole song or half of a song, to pieces like the beginning and end of a song minus the middle.

Cataloging went on for a couple weeks before Sheridan could even begin editing. Every song on the DVD had its own dedicated 60GB FireWire hard drive. Or two.

“It was an awful lot of learning as you go, but the end result was that it has a quality to it that seems homemade in a good way,” says Reznor. “There are things done wrong, quirky things. There’s meticulous attention to stuff that probably isn’t that important, and it unmistakably came from us as opposed to the company that’s doing the next band the next week.

“It’s made the process of editing video harnessable and understandable to me. and Final Cut Pro have done for video and movie making what the drum machine concept did for music,” says Reznor. “Now you don’t have to be rich in an expensive studio, where only the elite few can make music. With a drum machine you can make music—now, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be good—but you can make stuff that can sound like it’s got a certain quality.”

One Inspired Alchemist
“Programs like Final Cut Pro and iMovie have taken the act of making and editing videos and movies out of the hands of the offline, archaic two-tape system to something that’s usable, is fun. You get immediate results, and it’s a fraction of the price—and inspiring,” explains Reznor. “And I think that’s the important element that gets overlooked. It’s easy to use and it seems to make sense.

“That’s what impresses me about it,” he adds. “Especially Final Cut—it’s approachable. It’s not written by one engineer for other engineers to look at.”

Further, the NIN is excited about Final Cut Pro for . Says Sheridan, “As soon as I get my hands on Final Cut Pro 3, I’m switching to Mac OS X.”

Nailing It With DVD Studio Pro
For the DVD authoring side of things, Reznor and Sheridan turned to . "For someone like me—where it's not my field, but I’m intelligent enough to understand what’s going on in there, DVD Studio Pro was excellent because I did the tutorials, I read the manual, Rob and I answered each other’s questions, ‘Oh, that makes sense, you can have a movie as a button’ or ‘You can do this,’" explains Reznor.

"Some questions weren’t answered, but it got us up to a point where we could make a mock up of how we thought the DVD would go, because we wanted something that we could just mess around with, going, 'Let's see, does this background look good going into that one?'" he adds.

"Because we’d never created a DVD before, and we didn’t really know what we were doing, we had intended from the beginning to have Bob Ludwig’s mastering studio do the authoring portion of the DVD for us, since that’s where the surround sound for the DVD was getting mastered," says Sheridan.

"But when we saw DVD Studio Pro coming out, we thought it would be a great opportunity to really explore the ins and outs of DVD authoring—the possibilities and limitations of the medium," he adds. "We set out to create a version of our DVD that we could show to the authoring studio to give them a really clear idea of what we wanted. We also used DVD Studio Pro when working with David Carson on the layouts of the DVD Menus."

DVD: As Simple As Counting To Nine
"We found we could whip up some graphics, throw them into the program and instantly see the interaction of one menu with another—and that was great," says Sheridan. "We were excited, because it was yet another aspect of this project where new technology was allowing us to do everything ourselves."

The duo found DVD authoring a bit more daunting than simple movie editing. "With Final Cut Pro, I already knew how video worked and could build off of my knowledge of programs like Premiere," says Sheridan. "But in the case of DVD Studio Pro, I’d never worked with anything similar."

"However, after running through the tutorial, Trent and I were very confident with the program, and had very few troubles creating various reference versions of our DVD," he adds.

One Down, More To Go?
When asked about the possibility of future NIN DVD projects, Sheridan elusively comments, "I'm never quite sure what Trent’s going to come up with next, but I would say that both he and I are definitely interested in putting more NIN material out on DVD, especially now that we really know how it all works."

But for now, Reznor’s back in the studio, and says he is "kicking back into writing a new NIN album proper and trying to gain some objectivity after focusing the past year and half on the DVD."

NIN Web and iMovie On Tour
Since the NIN camp is a Mac-purist conclave, it’s no surprise that Sheridan designs and manages the website with Macs as well. For this task, he uses Flash. But like a true old-school webmaster, Sheridan codes most of the HTML by hand—only occasionally turning to an HTML layout program for a shortcut or two.

Additionally, the NIN website hosted a movie log of fan footage all along the Fragility tour, with updates for every new venue. "We used iMovie for all of the clips that were posted to the website during tour," says Sheridan. "Then, towards the end of the tour, when we were getting into Final Cut Pro, we switched over to that instead of iMovie."