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The Buddy System

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Any editor will tell you that the actual act of editing is a solitary experience. You get in to your suite, lock the door, black out any windows and don’t come out until your masterpiece is complete. The problem is reaching the endgame with a sense of objectivity. By being so secluded and glued to every edit, you don’t have the ability to properly judge what you have done. Think I’m kidding? Go back and take a look at some of your earlier works. Go on, find that box of unlabeled DVD’s, old VHS tapes with nothing on it but your name or whatever medium that they live on and watch it. I’ll wait.

 

Done yet?

 

Good. Now, what did you see? The answer in all cases should be “something I didn’t see back then”. Some of that, you can attribute to “if I knew then what I know now”, but that’s not always the case. Whenever we purposefully do something in the edit suite, we do it because it seems like a good idea at the time. We have some kind of brainstorm/post production moment of illumination and set the thought process in motion, assured that it is the absolute best thing you could possibly do for your project. The problem is, most of the time, you’re the only one judging the piece, and unless you have the ability to come back and look at it days later before submitting, you’ll still think that it’s the best piece you’ve ever done.

 

The problem is the isolation factor. Editors get into a zone, and when they’re in that zone, nothing can get them out of it. Think about every step you take in putting a piece together. You load the material, most times watching it while it’s loading and making mental edits while you’re doing it, going through the clips meticulously and placing them in order, fretting over every shot and audio edit, then fine tuning and sometimes colour correcting for hours or even days. After so much edit time on one project, you have a perfect picture in your head of what you want it to look like, how it should look and sound and the end result isn’t necessarily what you envision. But because you have such a clear picture, you can’t see the true edit from your mental projection.

 

Now, the last thing anybody wants is someone in that small broom closet of an edit suite with you for every single minute of the edit session questioning your every splice and split edit. Most times, it not only results in lost time, but countless screaming matches and multiple levels of frustration. This is where I like to rely on the Buddy System as a form of instant criticism. Now, before you go and get your best friend and volun-tell him/her that they have to watch everything you edit, make sure you pick your Buddy well. Here are some criteria to look for…

 

1)      Find someone with an idea of what it is you are trying to do. You want to recruit someone who watches a lot of TV, and may even be in the industry themselves. One thing you want to avoid, though, is another editor. While they’ll be able to see things that you may have missed in your tunnel-vision state, like frame flashes, they’ll also be watching it as an editor, and making their own editorial decisions. You’ll most likely get responses like “oh, I wouldn’t do that”, or “are you sure that’s what you want to do”, not necessarily based on what they feel the piece needs, but based on how they would have edited it. No two editors will cut a piece the same way, so be wary of someone who wants to inject their own editorial thought process into it. Camera operators are good opinions, as are audio operators. That way, you’ll get both the video and audio perspective.

2)      Find someone who isn’t afraid to say your stuff stinks. How many times have you shown someone a piece of work that you have done, only to have them say “Oh, that’s nice”, as the answer to any question you ask them about it? They could be saying it’s nice because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, because they don’t know what else to say…or maybe because it’s genuinely nice. Either way, it’s not CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. Finding someone who isn’t afraid to make you see something or isn’t shy in saying that something really doesn’t feel right is rare. If you find that person, have them on speed dial. That opinion is valuable. Just don’t piss them off by returning the favour by saying that something they’ve done is “nice”.

3)      Find someone outside the project. If someone has spent the same amount of time shot listing the material and knows it as well as you do, then they too are too close to the project. Remember…the people watching your stuff in the end have never seen a second of the raw footage shot, so they go in with a clean slate and will take everything in that state of mind. So for your proof watch, get someone who has an equally clean slate as your first-time viewers. You’ll get a true sense of the affect and impact your work will have on its intended audience.

 

Now this may seem like a lot to ask of someone, so get a few people. That way, if you have to make changes after the first run through, you’ll still have a fresh set of eyes after you’ve made changes. If you can get a review group together, then you’re laughing. Just be good to them. Otherwise, everything you do will be “nice”. And always remember that constructive criticism is meant to be constructive. Don’t be deconstructed by it. In the end, it’s what’s better for the project, and your work will undoubtedly be better in the end for it.

Even In The Quietest Moments

November 15, 2011 Leave a comment

 

In my life, I try to juggle a number of things. There’s the needs of managing a department, my work on shows that has me out-of-town at times, prepping class lessons…all the while making sure to have quality at-home time with my family. It’s a very rewarding life I lead, but does require some time management. What I’ve discovered is that there are some stretches of time that before went by where I could get more done. Riding the train in to work provides 20 minutes of quality writing time. Waiting for the train allows me to go through emails. Having two computers on my desk leads to multi-tasking.

 

The same can be said in the edit suite. There is an old axiom in television…”Hurry up and wait”. There may never have been a truer saying for the editor’s life in the non-linear world. In my previous post, I talked about being prepared before you even step into the edit suite…but what about once you’re into the project?

 

The beauty about the non-linear world of editing is that it IS non-linear. In the days of tape-to-tape editing, you had to wait for certain things to be completed before you moved forward. Oh sure, you could cut a story or feature on a separate tape and then dump that in once you got to that point in the show…but you lost a generation of video quality. Not exactly rewarding for you to think ahead if it compromises the quality of your work. But that’s not a problem anymore. You can start a new sequence, cut what you need to cut, and in some cases drop that sequence down on to your master timeline as one chunk without any video degradation. This allows you to keep working while waiting for an element of the show that’s taking a little longer than expected.

 

In some cases, even rendering time can be beneficial. It’s true that the life of the non-linear editor can sometimes be measured in progress bars. At times, it seems we watch those green/blue/black units of completion scroll across our screen more than we edit. But that “can’t do anything else” time doesn’t have to be a mandatory break. Think about what you can do that doesn’t require your editing computer. Anything from email correspondence with clients updating them on progress, gathering shots from an archive system on another computer, listening to music for the next piece in advance so you’re not wasting valuable edit time…all this can be accomplished in the time it takes your system to do a long render.

 

Of course, and perhaps above all else, is to make sure that you feel ready for the next part of the project. Sometimes, this means taking that 10 minutes or so and grabbing a snack, heating your lunch or simply refueling on coffee. The more alert and nourished you are, the less likely you are to make little mistakes. When I pull an all-nighter, I go in prepared…not just in having my materials in order, but in making sure I have what I like to call Edit Fuel. Have a late small meal prepared for the long renders, and some snacks for the shorter ones. If you’re tired, and you feel like you’ve been up for 3 days straight when you’re only in hour 6, you will start to miss things. This is where frame flashes, unwanted jump cuts and bad audio mixes happen…when the editor is not at 100%. It’s true that sleep deprivation can affect your hearing, so if you’re too tired to hear properly, how can you make a good mix? Take care of yourself and you’ll be better able to take care of your project.

Pre-Post Production

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment

 

You’ve probably heard the saying “If you succeed in preparing, you prepare to succeed”…then promptly ignored it as some trite inspirational slogan found on motivational posters. The problem is, as cheesy as those sayings are, they’re also very accurate. Just apply the analogy to an MMA fighter who probably should have spent more time in the gym. The end result usually ends up on Youtube with remarks like “OMG, WTF…How are you still alive?”

 

So, in order to not end up like the editing version of our poor, potentially decapitated MMA example, make sure you are fully prepared before you go into the edit suite. Before you enter any edit session, put yourself through this mental checklist…

 

1) Do I know what it is I’m cutting?

 

– believe it or not, this happens more often than not. Many times, you’ll have a vague idea of what you are working on…but doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface if being in the right mindframe. While subject may be a simple concept to grasp…mood, tone and pace are all subjective. What is the producer/director/reporter trying to tell, and how are they trying to tell it? What emotions are they trying to convey and provoke? What audience are you cutting for? These are all questions that should be answered before you even power up your computer. If you’re on the wrong page, you’ll have it cut only to hear “It’s not quite what I was thinking. Can we start over?”. Be on the same page as those you’re working with, so you can tell the same story

 

2) Do I have all the materials I will need to cut this?

 

– depending on the complexity, length and pace of the piece/show, you may need a lot of media in order to finish the job. If you accomplished the previous step in advance (maybe a day or two before edit day), take that time to load in all of the viz and sound you’ll be working with. Batch loading takes a long time, importing and converting even longer. Nothing eats a budget faster than being able to do nothing but watch little blue/black/green bars go across your screen. If you’re lucky, you may have a junior editor hired to do this for you (be good to them, they deserve it). However, if you don’t have that luxury, make use of the time you have beforehand for this tedious, yet necessary step. If it’s importing, that can be left to run overnight….hence, doing what every editor jokes about doing…working in your sleep.

 

3) Do I have too much stuff?

 

– Yes, this happens too…all too often, sometimes. Never underestimate the power of a paper edit! If you’re doing a half-hour show, you shouldn’t need 60 hours of tape loaded in. You should have just what you need, and nothing more. If you want to realize what an important step this is, try this….load in an hour-long clip. Then take the time and scroll through to find the 2-3 minutes you need. Now, tackle the same project, but with a paper edit. You guessed it…about 5 minutes of load in time as opposed to an hour. There, doesn’t that feel better? This is even more important in a digital environment, where import times are agonizingly slow. Just bring in what you know you need, and you shorten step 2 even more.

 

4) Get Organized!

 

– Imagine a project where you have approximately 150 clips, 27 graphic files, 4 cuts of music and 15 sound FX files which needs to be chopped into 2 segments, thereby requiring two different sequences. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Now imagine all of that in one bin. Imagine the amount of time wasted going back and forth in that bin just trying to find one solitary clip. You want a good analogy? Grab a phone book, look at one column and try to identify one number. Non-linear editing is bad enough on the eyes, why complicate matters more? Edit systems have the ability to have multiple bins for a reason, so take advantage of that feature. Have separate bins for music and SFX, graphics, sequences, rendered files, different scenes/parts, etc. However, try not to go too overboard. As cluttered as a bin can be, a screen can be just as cluttered with too many bins. Find a happy medium that works for you…make your project layout the Ikea of bin structures. Everything in its place, and every place easy to find.

 

Notice how all of this happens before we perform edit one. The more prepared and organized that you are, the easier the actual process of editing will be when you’re on the clock. So spend as much time in preparing, and you’ll bring it in on time.

Effective Effects

September 28, 2011 Leave a comment

 

One night, I sat down to watch what could possibly go down as one of the greatest modern B-movies today…Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus.

Admittedly, it’s not Oscar-calibre filmmaking, but I do enjoy a good “bad” movie. But as I was watching this monstrosity of Mega-badness, I noticed something about the editing. It seemed to me that the editor had one trick up their sleeve for this film. It was a speed burst with a chroma drop and luminance flare at the peak speed, which also acted as the “change shot” spot. It’s a great effect…subtle, simple and makes for a great transition (and as anyone who has had the “pleasure” of seeing this movie will attest to, it needed all the help it could get). The one problem was that the editor in question started to use it in places that didn’t need it. There was one shot where the editor actually did the speed burst but just used it speed up a slow move in. After seeing the effect used to change shots/scenes, it threw me off, and was a perfect example of when an effect can go from effective to distracting.

 

Now I don’t mean to pick on this editor in particular. There’s a charm to this film that fans of the genre no doubt appreciate. However, if watching TV provides lesson material for future editors, then that one scene makes a great object lesson. It shows the need to draw the line between when something is served better with an effect, and when it’s just overkill. Another perfect example is Jersey Shore. I forced myself to watch this one day, and had I suffered from epilepsy, I might possibly have had a seizure. This show is so effects heavy, that at times it’s hard to make out what’s going on. There was one scene where the shots were taken from an overhead camera. They tossed in a film shutter effect and scratch effect that was so quick, that I had to squint to see who was on-screen. Now, I understand that, being on MTV, the show’s audience demands that “music video” style of edit. Maybe it’s to divide those who watch the show and those who probably shouldn’t. However, I remember the early days of Real World and Road Rules, and while those shows did have their occasional effects, they were way more restrained than their Jersey channel-mates.

 

Now that I’m done being a TV grouch, I can get to the point of it all…determining when an effect is needed and when it’s too much. Some of the things that might make an effect necessary could be…

 

1) Different-looking viz: If you have a bunch of shots filmed in different locations/lighting conditions, an effect is a good way of visually tying things together. Photo colour filters, texture blends and the like are great ways of unifying your look.

 

2) Style: JJ Abrams’ Star Trek had one of the most subtle effects tossed in, but it added to the filming style. The little light flare that you saw in many of the interior shots. It was just something simple, but added just enough to keep our attention firmly on the screen.

 

3) Theme: You see in this a lot of event broadcasts…a graphical theme that is carried throughout the show. Much as the first point creates visual uniformity on a smaller scale, this creates it for the entire broadcast.

 

4) Audience: This is where I come to the defense of Jersey Shore. I completely understand that the producers of the show are catering to a certain market. If you watch MTV, you want flashiness, quick cuts and heavy effects. If you’re watching PBS, don’t expect to see too much splash. You can turn a viewer away if your effects aren’t designed for your audience. Imagine watching one of today’s music videos in the middle of The Lawrence Welk Show.

 

To the new editor, though, effects can be just too much to resist. It’s like a new toy…the minute you know how to play with it, you can’t stop. It’s the visual Lays potato chip. So how can you avoid this trap? Well, there’s always the tried and true “trial and error” approach, but this could lead to multiple revisions and if you’re on a deadline, this isn’t timely idea. One thing you can do is to go on an effects bender. If you have the time and opportunity, take a simple montage or scene and layer as many effects as you can on it. Do about 5 effects per run through. Make it the most visually hideous thing you could think of. Make it completely unwatchable! It’s the same theory as when kids would get locked in the closet and told to smoke an entire pack because they got busted by their parents. It’s designed to get it out of your system. Oddly enough, along the way, you’ll also get to see what effects work and which ones are better left in the filing cabinet labelled “Star Wipes”. Call it “effect aversion therapy”, but in a fun way. Go ahead…make it look horrible. Along the way, you’ll discover that if you can make it look really bad, you can also make it look really good.