Careers: Interviews
Award Winning Author, Writer, Top Adobe Expert...

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, ISP, has an exclusive interview with Jeff Sengstack, award-winning author, and writer.


Amongst his many books credits and more than 300 articles, are readers’ favorites, “Sams Teach Yourself Adobe Premiere 6.5 in 24 Hours”, and “Sams Teach Yourself DVD Authoring in 24 Hours.”


In his past life, Jeff has worked as a TV news reporter and anchor, video producer, radio station disk jockey, music publisher marketing director, and math and science teacher. The Regional Emmy-award winning former news reporter also achieved two Society of Professional Journalists first-place awards.


With his certification as an Adobe Expert and Instructor on Premiere, he has just finished writing a higher-education Digital Video curriculum guide for Adobe (it should appear on in January) and has just wrapped up work on “Sams Teach Yourself Adobe Premiere Pro in 24 Hours.” That book will arrive in stores in late January.




Q: Jeff, with your long history in all aspects of the media industry, it’s a real pleasure having you do this interview—thank you.


A: You’re welcome.


Q: Please provide a profile of your many careers leading to the present. What challenges did you face with lessons learned that you can share with our audience?


A: Big topic. The listing at the top of this interview sums up the many career hats I’ve worn. As for challenges, my goal always has been to do things well and to get the story right. Anyone who’s been in TV news or in education knows what a challenge that can be. Currently, as a school board member, we feel pressures from all directions but my goals remain the same.


Q: Can you comment on your current project with Adobe?


A: Adobe’s new Video Collection is a complete suite of digital video production tools: Premiere Pro, After Effects 6, Photoshop CS, Audition (formerly Cool Edit Pro 2) and Encore DVD (DVD authoring software). These tools give video producers everything they need to create high quality videos and DVDs. Adobe wants to get these products in the hands of high school, college and film school students in a meaningful way. Adobe asked me to write a Digital Video curriculum guide for higher education as a way to help teachers. I wrote 27 modules that run the gamut from how to shoot and edit video to how to produce motion graphics and create – or author -- Hollywood-style DVDs.


Q: Why is your latest book, Sams Teach Yourself DVD Authoring in 24 Hours, generating so much ‘buzz?’ How is it unique? Why would someone want to read the book?


A: DVD authoring is the next big thing. Videotapes will soon be a fading memory. DVDs give anyone with a PC or Mac and some basic authoring software the opportunity to put high-quality video, photos, music, documents, and web links on a truly interactive disc that can play in your living room, boardroom, or theatre in a standard DVD player. People are only beginning to see the huge potential for this product. My book is the first to take readers to any level they want to go with DVD authoring. I explain the entire media acquisition and production process as well as multiple levels of DVD authoring: from consumer to professional.


Q: Why did you feature Sonic’s DVD authoring applications in the book?


A: Sonic Solutions is the DVD authoring industry leader. No one else is even close to them in terms of the breadth and quality of their product line. MyDVD 5 is their entry-level program. It has all the ease-of-use you’d expect as well as many extra features that allow you to take your DVD authoring to much higher levels. DVDit! gives “prosumer” video producers many more options. And Sonic’s top products like ReelDVD and DVD Producer give professionals all the bells and whistles they need to make Hollywood film studio quality DVDs. In fact most Hollywood films on DVDs are authored with Sonic products. One other aside, Adobe licensed Sonic Solution’s core DVD scripting technology and used a team of Sonic Solutions engineers to create Encore DVD, Adobe’s new, professional DVD authoring title.


Q: What do you need to author DVDs?


A: A DVD burner like the Pioneer A06 or the Sony DRU-530 and DVD Authoring software. My book, “Sams Teach Yourself DVD Authoring in 24 Hours,” includes a DVD with three trial DVD authoring products from Sonic as well as video, music and image editing products. Plenty of software to get you started.


Q: How about sharing tips on acquiring images, audio, and video for your DVD projects?


A: What makes DVDs so compelling is that you can put just about anything in a digital format on them. So digital cameras, camcorders, tunes ripped from CDs, narrations you make with your PC’s microphone -- all can go on a DVD.


Q: How do you create professional DVD projects?


A: How do I condense a 500+ page book? Basically, professional-level DVDs have extra features that take more production time. Most professional DVD authors work with programs like Photoshop and After Effects to make static or motion menus. They build those assets knowing they have to have certain characteristics to work well in a DVD. Those professionally-produced DVDs also typically have a higher level of complexity such as numerous “nested” menus (menus accessible from other menus), special visual highlights that show up as viewers move their remotes around the TV screen and click on buttons, extra audio tracks with a director’s narration or foreign language dubs, as well as sub-titles and even hidden “easter eggs” (special areas of the DVD accessible only to those who know where and what to click).


Professional DVD authoring software from Sonic Solutions as well as Adobe’s Encore DVD give DVD producers the tools to exploit those higher-end aspects of the DVD specification.


Q: Can you provide five additional useful tips from the book?


A: 1) Purchase ($70) or download a trial version of MyDVD 5 ( Take it for a spin using some photos, music and a video or two. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to author a DVD. If you don’t have a DVD recorder, you can use MyDVD’s built-in software to see how your project would look if it were on a DVD.


2) Once you create your first DVD you’ll begin to see this technology’s potential. Start dreaming up projects that will work well on DVDs: realtor home tours, corporate road shows (DVDs are rapidly replacing PowerPoint demonstrations), wedding videos (no more wading through an hour of videotape to get to “I do”), and your kid’s soccer season complete with statistics.


3) Buy a DVD recorder. Even if you don’t burn DVDs just yet, DVD recorders play and burn CDs just as well as CD recorders do. And you can use them to play DVD movies on your PC.


4) Create a flowchart of your DVD project before you begin authoring. This approach is so intuitive some professional DVD authoring products use flowcharts to simplify the authoring process.


5) To fully exploit DVD authoring you need to try your hand at video editing. The best entry-level PC video editing product is Studio 8 from Pinnacle. I include a trial version on my book’s DVD. Pinnacle’s Web site used to offer a trial download. I just looked for a link and couldn’t find one. Guess you’ve got to buy my book to get it (he says laughing). Of course, once you decide you want more in a video editor, do consider purchasing Adobe Premiere Pro. It is the best video editing software. Period. Adobe built this latest version from the ground up and it really shines.


Q: Your first book on Adobe Premiere allowed you to connect with your friends in the TV business and is garnering great reviews. What did you learn from the project and are there any tips you can share from the book?


A: I tapped those friends for sidebars on their areas of expertise: the video production business, video shooting, editing, script writing, sound recording, and event videography. I am fortunate to have worked with such fine folks.


As for tips: my books on Premiere (Premiere 6.5 and Premiere Pro) have dozens – maybe hundreds. I haven’t counted. Difficult to distill down to a few. I guess the bottom line is to look at what you’ve created. Show it to others. Get feedback. Be critical. Then go back and make it better.


Q: How do you see Adobe Premiere evolving in the future?


A: Premiere Pro took a giant step up the evolutionary ladder. It’s ease of use, attention to detail, full complement of effects, and new focus on audio put it several cuts above the competition. As for the future: Adobe is the only software company I know of that makes a concerted effort to involve the user community in product development. They listen to our gripes and suggestions. And they respond by improving their products. I raised a number of issues in my book on Premiere 6.5, and Adobe fixed all of them in Premiere Pro. I’m not saying I was the impetus, but I know they heard me, and others, saying the same things.


So the future for Premiere, After Effects, Photoshop, Audition, and Encore DVD looks bright. These are, and will continue to be, the tools-of-choice for video producers. And as PCs become more powerful, expect that many more people will get into video production and will use the Adobe Video Collection.


Q: Describe the best features in Adobe’s and Sonic’s applications?


A: The Adobe Video Collection features true integration among the five products. Working in Photoshop, you can create a graphic with multiple layered elements and import that file into Premiere Pro with each layer separated, allowing for amazing video animations. You can export Premiere Pro projects into After Effects, add some whiz-bang special animated text or motion graphics. You then can export it back to Premiere for more editing and pass it on to Encore DVD for authoring. Same is true for the Premiere Pro-to-Audition workflow. If you want truly high quality audio mixing and music creation, you turn to Audition then export that work product into Premiere Pro.


As for Sonic Solutions products: That firm lives and breathes the DVD specification. If you burn a DVD using any of their authoring products you have a strong likelihood that it will play back on virtually any DVD player, even older ones. That’s not the case for other DVD authoring products. Plus the company understands its market. It does an amazing amount of usability testing and has crafted each of its products to suit a market niche: consumer, prosumer, professional and Hollywood.


Q: How about providing useful tidbits from the hundreds of articles you have written?


A: My articles run the gamut from hardware and software reviews to PC games and high-tech business reports. The list of tips would be endless. Overall, from all the stories I’ve done, one message comes through loudly and clearly: listen and respond to your customers.


Q: Any predications about the future of DVD?


A: DVDs will become ubiquitous. All TVs and PCs will have them. All PC video editing products will offer DVD output options. DVDs will become the standard medium for digital publishing. DVDs will help drive high-definition TV. DVDs will shift to higher-capacity formats but they’ll still be DVDs and you still will need some form of DVD authoring software to create them. It’s just that DVD authoring will begin to look less like a stand-alone product and will become more integrated into other products.


Q: You have such a long and successful career in media. Look into your crystal ball, who will be future winners and losers, what new services and technologies will become the next “killer apps?”


A: The driving force behind improving PC technology is entertainment. We have high-speed graphics cards, CD/DVD ROM drives, fast processors, and FireWire connectivity, because PC games and video editing software have pushed hardware developers to make those improvements. Entertainment will continue to be the reason PC technology moves forward. As more people get faster connections, we’ll see the Internet play a greater role as an entertainment medium. It will become a ubiquitous resource in homes, schools and businesses.


Q: What advice will you give to businesses and IT professionals to ensure they can remain competitive?


A: I refer back to the one thing I distilled from interviewing business people, product developers, and technology experts: listen to your customers and anticipate their needs.


Q: What new books can we expect from you?


A: I plan to take a break from writing. I’ve been at it non-stop for two years. My plan is to make some instructional videos that will supplement my Premiere Pro book. I plan to build a Web site – – where I will offer those products.


I want to make Family Tree DVDs. That concept -- putting a family history on DVD, complete with photos, living history narratives, documents, videos, and music – resonates with me. I think DVDs enable family historians to present a family’s story in a way that will engage anyone from the family. No longer will family members have to wade through a long videotape to get to segments about a specific ancestor or family line that interest them.


I will tackle one other project. As a school board member, I look for ways my expertise can help in our district. So this spring I’ll help produce DVDs for the sixth grade graduating class. The plan is for each kid to have his or her own menu on the DVD that accesses whatever art, music, writing or other media they want to put on it. This should be great fun.


Q: You must have both interesting and funny stories to tell from your many rich experiences—please share a few.


A: I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve interviewed some very talented, intelligent, engaging and prescient people. I’ve traveled far and wide. I’ve had a wealth of exciting experiences. Of course, many stories come to mind. Perhaps I’ll regale you over dinner sometime?


That said, there was this one Bridge match. Playing in the finals of a team event against world champions Bobby Goldman, Paul Soloway, Mike Passell and Bobby Wolff was a watershed moment.


Q: Which resources do you find the most useful?


A: On short notice, I can come up eight.

1) People.

2) The Internet.

3) My PC.

4) The telephone.

5) Books.

6) Magazines, specifically Newsweek and National Geographic.

7) My car.

8) My brain.


Q: What drives you to do what you do? 


A: Without wanting to sound high and mighty, here goes: My philosophy of life is to make the world a better place. I try to do that incrementally, a little here a little there. My work on the school board here is an example. When I plan and work projects, that view of life is always a factor.


Another goal is to use my brain. I want to keep on learning. One of the challenges when writing a how-to book, for example, is explaining a process. Unless you really understand something, you can’t explain it. If I don’t fully understand something, I work on it until I do.


And that leads up to the third thing that drives me: being accountable. It’s very discouraging for me to see how few people, businesses and government agencies are accountable. How few take responsibility for their decisions and actions. So even with something as relatively insignificant as a how-to book, I always try get it right. And I try to take the extra step to present it so it makes sense to my readers.


Q: What processes and special qualities led to you to your awards?


A: See the previous answer as to my motivations. As for the award-winning TV news stories:


My regional Emmy was for a story about a state child custody law with tragic consequences. It took an immense amount of research. I had the good fortune of having a boss who, when I told him I thought I was on to a powerful story that would take some time to get right, simply told me to keep him posted and let him know when I was done. Bottom line: the legislature changed the law.


I received a Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) award for a story about a deadly coalmine fire with only one survivor. Weeks after the accident, family members of the victims began circulating horrible rumours about why that one miner survived. He refused all interview requests. But I researched the hows and whys of the accident and discovered the rumours were unjustified. I presented my findings to the survivor and he agreed to tell me his compelling and heart-wrenching story. We ended up devoting half of a newscast to present the entire story to truly set the record straight.


My other SPJ award was for a series on life inside a state-operated centre for the mentally handicapped. I chose to do those stories because most people are uncomfortable dealing with the issues of the mentally handicapped. But it’s a subject that needs to be discussed if society is going to effectively meet the needs of those who require help. The SPJ judges referred to the series as an “enlightening look at the state’s lack of attention to the problems of the mentally retarded.” They added, “It is truly a tragic story.”


Q: Do you have any more comments to add?


A: I believe that my recent “Sams Teach Yourself” books -- the just-released one on DVD Authoring and the upcoming one on Premiere Pro – are the right books at the right time. That anyone now can create professional-looking videos and DVDs on a PC is a big deal. That this quality of video production is available on a PC will change the way we see the world. News crews now literally can put a video production studio in their laptops.


Companies, small and large, will be able to bring more of their video production and multimedia creation in-house. And anyone can put any audio and visual material as well as any digital files on a DVD. Not only in a compelling, interactive format that allows for instant access but as an archive as well. I’m hoping my books will help people take full advantage of these exciting technologies.


Q: It was a pleasure doing this interview with you.


A: Thank you.


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