Avid 1.0

24 03 2008

Here is a pretty awesome sales piece that Avid did, back in 1990, for the first version of their Avid Media Composer, courtesy of Au royaume de la salle 7. Pretty funny and, for those of you who have never touched film, there are actually some shots of an editor running footage through a synchronizer.

Sound and your film

24 03 2008

It is almost a mantra that one thing that separates a low budget film from a higher budget one is something that actually doesn’t cost very much money at all — attention to sound.  Colin Mulvany, over at Mastering Multimedia, discusses why sound is important to your final product and how to work that into your process. One great note that he talks about is using the L-cut, or split edit.

Always use split edits. The split edit separate the professional editor from the amateur. The way I define a split edit is that you want to hear the person before you see them. Split edits, also called L-cuts really make your video flow smoothly between a-roll and b-roll. Just watch a video where a person appears and starts to talk. It can be jarring to the viewer. You can fix it by unlinking the video and audio track, roll the talking head video back about four seconds, then tuck the exposed audio on a separate track under the outgoing b-roll clip. You now have a smooth transition viewers will hardly notice. There are a half a dozen ways to do a split edit. Find the way that works best for you.

One of the best things about L-cuts is that they tend to smooth out cuts. In fact, I always make my sound cut happen at a different place than my picture cut (except at scene transitions or when I want my audience to feel my cut). Even if all that means is extending the outgoing track ten frames until the next word of dialogue begins.

Training and Lack Thereof

24 03 2008

Scott Simmons has a pretty powerful posting over at studiodaily in which he talks about a decided lack of basic training for editors and assistants, some of which he attributes to the DIY nature of Final Cut Pro.

He talks about the idea of doing everything yourself (I have railed against that as well, though more from the director/writer/editor syndrome) and how that has decreased the feeling among many that there’s no need to do an online, for instance.

What used to be the online process of taking low resolution footage (AVR 3 anyone?) and recapturing to high resolutions isn’t necessary with P2 media, Pro Res, and even DV. But there’s more to an online that high-rezing footage. There’s quality control with video levels, color correction and color grading, formatting, graphics, masters and sub-masters, audio lay-back, and SD down conversion among a lot of other things.

As someone who has a much greater story sense than a color sense, it never made sense to me that I should rely on my own talents to color correct something that I had worked on. I’m really good with music (having been a music editor on such films as THE COTTON CLUB and SOPHIE’S CHOICE) so I trust my own instincts in editing the music for my films. But, I’d much rather someone with more talent than I actually mix and sound design the films I edit.

The expression “jack of all trades, master of none” is a cliché for a reason. It is true. And I’d rather have someone else, with greater talents than I, write the music, color correct, split tracks and smooth out backgrounds, shape motion graphics, etc. etc. etc. There is a panoply of things that I cannot do as well as others. For those things, I’d rather that others do them. My films will be so much better.

Along another line, Scott complains about sloppy assistantship.

If the young editor does know how to generate an EDL (it is only a menu pull down after all) they very often don’t know how to check its integrity or even read the numbers that the EDL generates for that matter. Continuing in the offline to online vein, there is often no knowledge of why you would want to collapse your video layers down to a single track to avoid capturing a lot of unused media that is never seen on video track 1.

I tend to agree. The number of times that I’ve walked through the editing rooms at USC and seen student editors who have their cuts in the same bins as their footage, who have their edits named “Untitled Sequence.01″ and “Untitled Sequence.02″, who have named their clips “WS flowers opening” instead of 23A-1 (even when they’re going to do an EDL or a cut list), who have…. oh, never mind, you get the point.

I have to admit, I accidentally encourage some of this. I find that the hardest thing for DIY filmmakers to grasp is to think like an editor. As a result, I have spent countless hours trying to help student editors to see how footage needs to be re-molded to tell the story better. And that requires that we talk about identifying story (my upcoming book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT is all about this, by the way). In the process of attempting to teach the grammar and the thought process of editing, it’s all easy to leave media management and workflow issues aside. At USC, we’ve tried to deal with that by having separate Avid or Final Cut modules. But most people in our profession learn by doing, and so the real teaching can only come when they’re working on a project. And, frankly, there’s not enough time in the world to teach every detail of the NLE interface and assistant editing practices.

I don’t have the answers, of course. Everyone learns at a different pace and has different requirements. So, we do the best we can. But Scott’s blog does properly point out some of the downsides of a culture in which the democratization of media doesn’t come along with a Best Practices Manual. (That is, ironically, the book that I want to write after LEAN FORWARD, sort of the fourth edition of my first book — THE FILM EDITING ROOM HANDBOOK. But that is another story.)

In the meantime, surf on over to Scott’s blog. And don’t forget to read the many fascinating comments on the entry. This is all excellent reading.

How Not To Screw Up Your HD Project

24 03 2008

Chad Denning and the folks over at Gamma Blast, a Nashville-based post-production house have put together a pretty straight-forward guide to bringing your project into an HD format. Subtitled “Be A Hero in Your HD Project” the piece, the guide talks about the various flavors of HD, as well as issues involving Standard Definition. The most important bit of information, to my mind, comes in the first paragraph.

Thinking backwards from the distribution step will guide the process for HD because the technical requirements of the distributor will dictate what you need.

In other words, don’t just shoot. Prepare to shoot. And make sure that the preparation takes into account the full project — all the way through post-production. As any number of wiser people than me have noted, the camera manufacturers are rapidly addressing production issues (easy capture onto the smallest amount of digital media possible), without acknowledging that the needs of post-production are almost the exact reverse (memory is so cheap that we hate what compression — particularly HDV compression — will do to our process).

So, it is wisest to know what you’re going to have to deliver at the end of your process as you’re making decisions about what to capture on.

Thanks go to Larry Jordan and the Digital Production Buzz podcast for the interview with Denning that led me to this website.

HD Craziness

23 03 2008

I’m old enough to remember that, when HD first came onto the scene, the promise was that it would create one great standard for everything and all of the problems of NTSC versus PAL and SECAM would be gone forever.

That seems like the Good Ol’ Days now.

The preponderance of HD standards makes the days of Standard Definition seem like a holiday. Shane Ross has a fantastic blog entry, on his Little Frog In High Def blog, called “The First Hiccup” that talks about his problems in getting an episode of his series out the door to be shipped to the network. It’s a story that will curl the hair of anyone who ever believed in the myth of One True Standard.

The Democratization – and Danger – of Content

23 03 2008

Easter eggs.  Courtesy danzfamily.comTalk about confluence. On Friday night, I had a conversation with a music producer/engineer about lowering the entry price for musicians and filmmakers. It’s what is fashionably called the “democratization of media.” Just Google that phrase. I did and got 875 hits without even looking for alternative spellings or phrasings.

Let’s couple that with another, though less momentous, fact. When I look at the tags for this blog’s postings, aside from the obvious tag of “Editing,” the largest number of entries fit under the tags “Business,” “The Future” and “Distribution.”

This points to the obvious conclusion that, at least in my mind, the future is going to be less about the creation of media but about its selling and distribution. I’ve said for years (including right here on this blog) that the majors are getting increasingly inept at creating media on their own. Big, bloated record albums that used to be shoved down our throats are now attracting 10% of the audience than they did ten years ago. At the same time, it’s possible for your average music fan to record a song for under $100 (the cost of labor being free in these cases). But you try and find something you like on MySpace. You might as well go trolling at the Rose Bowl Flea Market.

In movies and television, that trend is just beginning. Movie studios will still turn out their $150 million dollar tent pole films, and people will still go to see it. But attendance is going to start taking a hit — especially now that it costs more for a family of four to see a film than it does to stay home and order in really good Chinese food and watch something on television or a Netflix film.

But go try and find something on YouTube. Try and sift through that hulking mass of short films to find anything worth viewing for fun (I do enjoy finding tutorials — Avid, Final Cut, other Pro Apps, et al, but I don’t think that those short films are ever going to become mass audience pleasers).

So where does that leave us?

Read the rest of this entry »


21 03 2008

No, that isn’t an obscure sociological term about personal interactions. It’s an obscure technical term. In the video world it refers to the way in which an image is projected on a screen.

In a nutshell, the way it works is this. For a typical US television set, each frame of image is divided into 625 (whoops, my bad, I mean 525) lines. All of the odd numbered lines are scanned across the television screen in 1/60th of a second and then, while the image is still sitting in our brains, all of the even numbered frames are scanned across the screen. The brain combines each of these fields (as each of the groups of scan lines is called) into one full image. Voila. A frame.

Note that this is very different from film, in which the entire frame is displayed at the same time.

The various flavors of Hi Definition can be either interlaced or not (this last is called “progressive”). That is what the letters “p” and “i” mean when someone (who is usually try to sell you something) tells you that “This set is 1080i” or “You’ll like this better because it’s 720p.” Note that, in both cases, you should run for the hills — or, at least, the closest Internet station to help you survive the bullshit meter.

So, why am I giving you this long-winded lesson in tech terminology

Will Richardson who is a film director/editor for The Heliconia Press (a sporting publisher and DVD content creation company) publishes a great blog called The Video Animal. Recent postings include a series on HD on The Cheap, which are well worth reading. His most recent posting is the start of a new series entitled How To Post Video On The Web. This part is all about interlacing, and describes how to get rid of it. His approach to defining “interlacing” is a little different from mine, and mashes it up with a concept called “persistence of vision” which the theory that describes why the human mind can see a series of 24 or 30 still images in one second, and perceive them as one fluid moving image.

But his description of how to get rid of the interlacing when posting something to the web is clear and concise. He also recommends reading Adobe’s guide to compression, which I highly recommend reading if you have trouble sleeping at night. Seriously, though, you’ve got to love a technical guide when it contains the following line:

Compression technologies take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of human senses by reducing data that isn’t likely to be perceived.

Now that’s riveting reading, isn’t it?

Cockiness aside, take a look at this series from Will, who has a fine and friendly writing style to help you through these difficult subjects. And you’ll also learn quite a bit about filmmaking on the cheap from him.

A Tip For Up-And-Coming Directors

20 03 2008

If you want to look like a Real Director in a publicity shot then do one of the following:

  1. Point off screen
  2. Hold an object that is doing the pointing for you
  3. Do something (like the shot of Wim Wenders off there to the right) that involves an activity that may or may not be pointing but is, without a doubt, something that Real Directors do.
  4. Don’t be afraid to look into the camera, or to ignore the camera. In fact, just point and let the camera do the rest.

That’s the way it will look like you know what you’re doing.

[Image of Wim Wenders courtesy of Confessions123 blog]

Apple rolls over… and we’re happy for it

19 03 2008

The following comes from MacRumors (always a good source for… well… Macintosh… well… rumors):

Financial Times reports that Apple is currently in discussions with music companies to allow customers to have unlimited access to the entire iTunes music library in exchange for paying a premium for its iPod and iPhone devices (presumably for the life of the device).

The plan sounds similar to Universal’s Total Music plan in which the cost of music is embedded into the music player itself. Based on the wording of this article, it seems Apple’s version of the plan adds the cost on top of the iPod or iPhone.

The negotiations are currently being held up due to disagreements in pricing. Apple is reportedly only offering $20 per device, while Nokia is playing almost $80/handset for a similar plan. Other possibilities appear to include a subscription based service for iPhone users ($7-8/month, for example) with the capability to keep up to 40-50 tracks/year even after the subscription lapses.For Fior

For years Apple has insisted that consumers didn’t want subscription services. In an earlier blog post I mentioned that, with the download movie rental model that Apple introduced for its iTunes film service, they had cracked the door open to music rentals. The other show has now dropped and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. Now, if they can combine that with a really cool Netflix/Pandora style recommendation engine, I’d pay eight bucks a month for that. It’s way better than radio.

Image courtesy of Wired Magazine

Death Comes In Twos

18 03 2008

Last year, when both Ingmar Bergman and Michaelangelo Antonioni died on the same day, it felt like more than a coincidence. It was as if some uber film critic was making a cosmic ironic comment on the state of movies today.

What, then, are we to make of the deaths of both Arthur C. Clarke and Anthony Minghella today? There is no cosmic joke here, just a sad realization that the man who gave us the book of 2001:A Space Odyssey and the man who gave us TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY and THE ENGLISH PATIENT will create art no more.

Ben Kuchera, in a column in Ars Technica today, quotes the three laws that Clarke was famous for.

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

The last of the three is famous, in and of itself. I often wonder, imbued with the good ol’ sensawonda, just how someone merely 100 years old can hope to internalize all of the changes in his or her lifetime. I know that when I emerge from the editing of a film and look around, it seems like the editing technology has drastically changed. A mere five years ago, a mention of the acronym DI would have gotten you stares of incomprehension (unless they thought you were talking about drunk driving). And that’s just in my small little neck of the woods, and in five years time.

Clarke (who has written “Against The Fall of Night”, “Childhood’s End,” “Rendezvous With Rama,” and “Islands In The Sky” in addition to the novel he wrote with Stanley Kubrick) has been writing since 1937 and, in that time, has created some remarkably detailed and plausible future worlds. Remember, when he started writing, the concept of launching anything into space was incomprehensible. The Internet? Not even a gleam.

Yet Clarke, and a few other science fiction writers at the time, managed to conceive of all of this, at a time when the magazines that published science fiction were more concerned with Bug Eyed Monsters and women in the clutches of monsters.

Now, that is a visionary.

Still, I’m particularly entranced by that second law, that one needs to go beyond what we consider possible in order to discover reality’s true limitations.

Speaking narrowly, there are two types of directors in the reshaping process in editing. There are those who will make big, broad changes early on and see what breaks. They will remove entire scenes, rearrange whole sections of the film, drop favorite moments and excise great lines Then they’ll see what absolutely needs to go back to the way it used to be (or, to be more precise, go back a little ways to what used to be).

There are also directors who will work in smaller incremental changes, slowly chipping away at problems until they arrive at a comfortable resolution.

Neither approach is right. Both of them work (though the second method takes longer).

My own preference is to make broad changes — to push past the possible into the impossible — and to see what works. It is axiomatic that once you take a scene out of a film, no one misses it. When you do, you know you’ve got to keep it in the film in some form. So, plenty of things that I’ve resisted changing for what I thought were very good reasons, turn out to be quite expendable in the long run. You never know what is going to work and what won’t (within reason). It’s a cliche, but, really, you never know.

So, Clarke’s second law has ramifications everywhere.

Anthony Minghella didn’t have Clarke’s same speculative fiction side of things, but he managed to blaze a few paths in storytelling and character development. The people in TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY (the awesome Alan Rickman, years before the caricature he plays in the Harry Potter series) felt blindingly real. The story of a woman who cannot let go of her husband, after his death at an early age, the emotions that Juliet Stephenson portrayed were touching. Not because they were telegraphed, but because they weren’t.

THE ENGLISH PATIENT was a different canvas altogether. Those of you who have taken my Intermediate Editing course know that I play the Caravaggio interrogation scene to demonstrate the use of silence and sound contrast. Walter Murch is given credit for the concept but, as we all know, nothing gets put in a film without the director’s permission, and I’m sure that Minghella enthusiastically was aboard the beautiful use of sound and music to create the horrifying mood of the scene.

It’s that kind of collaboration that we all seek in this business. I know that Walter Murch admires Minghella almost as much as Thelma Schoonmaker admires Martin Scorsese. That comes from a respect for talent, of course, but it also comes from a realization that their directors allow them to do good work. These directors have the ability to step back and let their collaborators come up with ideas.

Not every director can open up that easily. The ones that do are worth their weight.

I will certainly miss the art that Anthony Minghella and Arthur C. Clarke created, even though it will live on — past my own death, I’m sure.