Coolest Final Cut Pro trick!!

8 07 2008

Larry Jordan\'s tip about patching tracksOne of the reasons why I read Editwell and virtually anything that Larry Jordan is a part of (here is a link to Larry’s website) is that the man not only has the smoothest voice of any tutorial host/radio host, but that he is among the clearest (and most enthusiastic) FCP teachers around.

That puts him in some incredible company, by the way. I learned an amazing amount from a three day workshop that Diana Weynand taught a year or so back. And her books, along with Michael Wohl’s, are an invaluable addition to my library.

But Larry is amazing. Check out his tip from a recent posting on “Larry Jordan’s Tip of the Day” from his engaging web site. It gives a great way to repatch the track assignments from the Patch Panel at the left of the timeline (see the image at the right).

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.

Avid’s “New Thinking”

18 03 2008

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the announcements that Avid came out with yesterday. It’s the first part of their attempt to right the ship that has been listing to the side, as of late. More announcements are coming, particularly some new hardware. But this press release deals mainly with business practices, and less with tech-y stuff.

Which puts it right up my alley.

Chief among the changes is that they are beginning to simplify their product line. They are completely eliminating Xpress Pro, and dropping the price of Media Composer Soft so that no one will pay more than $2495 for the full-on MC. Students can purchase the Educational Version for the much much lower price of $295 which doesn’t have some of the additional software that comes with the full version, but is an absolute complete version of the Media Composer.

Here’s the amazing thing about this. Not too long ago, when you had to buy breakout boxes and other stuff from Avid, a typical Media Composer cost you $60,000 to get in the door. Now you get that for $2500. And it’s a better version of MC than the Adrenaline. Let’s do the math on that — that’s less than 5% of that old price. If you’re a student, you’re getting MC for about 1/2 of 1% of the original price.


The other things that Avid announced yesterday revolved around the user community. Anyone who’s had the patience to listen to me babble over the last few years knows that I’ve felt that the company has not been doing a good enough job of getting tutorials and documentation out there (tips, tricks, techniques, you know.. the kind of stuff that the Final Cut community puts out in droves). Now, it appears that they’re going to try and fix that. They’ve started a new community web site and are encouraging people to upload training videos. In other conversations I’ve had with them, they tell me that they’re looking into ways of seeding this phenomenon and, folks, if you want to help out please speak up to them, because they seem to be way open to listening.

Yeah, some people want to hear about the new hardware. But, for me, that wouldn’t be “new thinking.” The really “new” part of the announcement, seems to be their commitment to interacting with us — the users.

Let’s hope they keep it up.

The press release is here. The new community site is here.

Deconstructing Film

12 02 2008

I don’t want this to sound too film study-ish and all but for those of you who weren’t able to catch the Wooster Group’s performance piece HAMLET, which just finished its run at REDCAT, you missed an amazing study in film editing.

That’s right — film editing.

I’m going to talk about this by taking a diversion — into the Getty Museum. Viola diptych 2Back in 2003, the Getty mounted a show by Bill Viola called PASSION. The work used very high speed camera to record actors going through varying emotions. Because the footage was shot super high speed, the characters moved in e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n. What this means is that you got to see the characters at every stage of their emotional moment. Though you could barely see them move, so slow was the motion, you could study their eyes, body and inner life. You noticed that it changed, you just couldn’t tell when.

So, what does this have to do with editing, you ask? One of the rooms had a series of very large video monitors positioned around each other (you can see two of them next to each other on the right). The fascinating thing that I noticed as I looked at the work for minute after minute is that, because the characters turned as they emoted, their positions relative to each other.

In editing, I believe in something that I’ve dubbed the Rule of Threes, which basically says that the impact of a shot is completely dependent on the shot that came before it and will inevitably effect the shot that comes after it. No shot lives alone. Looking at two different shots placed physically side-by-side (as opposed to temporally, the way we normally work in film) increased that rule even more. Mike Figgis, in his film TIMECODE, experimented with this, by placing four separate stories on a quad split screen. The television series 24 does the same with its copious use of picture-in-picture. But it was this side-by-side placement of a number of hyper-slow depictions of characters emoting that brought the feeling home.

So, finally, what does this have to do with Hamlet? (which you should rush right out and see if you like avant garde theatre and if it ever plays again in your neck of the woods)

The Wooster Group’s play takes a 1962 presentation of HAMLET, directed by John Gielgud and starring Richard Burton. The theater piece was recorded by 27 cameras, according to the program notes, for a television presentation on two nights only. After that, the film was put away.

Until now.

The original television presentation the play dominates one large projection screen in the upstage center of the theater. As it runs, the Wooster Group performs the play in perfect sync (more or less) with that original performance. But there is so much more to it than that. Hamlet, played by Scott Shepherd, interacts with the playback — sometimes telling the unseen tech crew to “fast forward to that dagger scene” or “we don’t need this.” The video behind him responds to his commands, the ever present word PLAY that sits on the upper left corner of the screen (mimicking, in a unreal sort of manner, a VCR playback unit) is replaced by the letters “FF” and the screen squiggles as if it is a tape being shuttled forward.

At other times, there are jump cuts in the footage which the actors on stage must mimic by moving their bodies jerkily. In many other portions of the film, characters have been digitally erased, though the actors performing those roles continue on (right in front of our eyes) copying the performance of the 1962 actors which can be seen on a number of cue monitors set up around the stage. In some cases, the footage is replaced by the Final Cut blue Unrendered screen (and, though the 1962 soundtrack continues, it is joined by the beeping that is associated with mismatched sound files in Final Cut).

In a particularly brilliant and inspired process, the stage actors recreate the concepts of camera dollies by moving themselves, the furniture and their props forward or backward on the stage. As the camera in the 1962 production moves out and to the right, all of the live actors on stage take several steps backward and shift to their rights, dragging tables and chairs with them. The result? The play audience becomes hyper aware of the moving camera.

In short, this is a play that makes us think about how movies work. It is Hamlet, deconstructed, in much the same way that Bill Viola’s PASSION, took apart the power of the edit to relate emotion. But it is not Hamlet that is really being analyzed here, it is a film of Hamlet and our perceptions of film as reality.

And while that may sound all Cinema School, for anyone who has ever edited intensely, you will recognize what is happening here. As an editor we must figure out, either subconsciously or consciously, how a particular edit will work with an audience. In this HAMLET we are asked to look at the way in which this television production has been put together — with its jump cuts, dolly movies, and actors — and internalize the technique while we listen to Shakespeare’s words.

It’s brilliant and a thrilling 2-3/4 hours of theatre.


Apple Follows Avid’s Lead

7 02 2008

Whoa. Hell has frozen over.

Back in November, I gave Avid a ton of crap about not exhibiting at the 2008 NAB. (NAB is the National Association of Broadcasters ) I thought that it was sending the wrong message to users but, even more importantly, it was taking away from their ability to attract new users to the fold.

Subsequently I had some conversations with some people at Avid who, somewhat convincingly sorta, explained to me just how much money it takes to mount one of those shows and how little money they get back from it. It was a pissing match that they didn’t want to get into. However, I still felt that it sent a bad message.

I began to waver a bit more when I saw just how CES has changed. Almost no new announcements of worth came out of that show and it started to look like the year-round ubiquity of the Internet news and gossip had made product announcements difficult at that show.

Now, Macenstein reports that Apple has decided not to exhibit at the 2008 conference as well.

Given Apple’s huge push in recent years into the film/video/animation industry, this move is fairly major news. While this does not necessarily mean Apple will not conduct user groups or smaller hands-on events (although that quote does not sound promising), “scaling back” their presence at NAB is almost up there with “scaling back” their presence at Macworld.

They go on to report that a spokesman for NAB claimed that they were “talking about some on-site business opportunities with Apple.” This is just one step up from Avid’s decision to have some Las Vegas presence to work with their “customer base.”

The real news story here is what this says about trade shows. I wonder if any other companies have decided not to invest the cash in these large shows.

P2 and Tech Talk

4 02 2008

Shane Ross, over at Little Frog In High Def, has a post in which he talks about the changes in P2 workflow with the new HVX-200 camera. Here is an excerpt:

I got my hands onto an HVX-200 camera so that I could do P2 demos at MacWorld. I went out to shoot footage and when I tried to apply this workflow, I found that I couldn’t trash the contents. They were locked and I could not unlock them. READ ONLY. And if I reformatted the card as MS-DOS (FAT-32) then put the card back into the camera, it was an unrecognized format. I HAD to reformat the card in the camera. That was the only solution. Oh, I could open the LOG AND TRANSFER interface in Final Cut Pro and delete the files in there. But that is slow and not too slick. And while the P2 Viewer that Panasonic makes can reformat the card…it is PC only. So us Mac guys, a HUGE part of the HVX-200 and P2 market, were left in the cold.

Apart from the value of this post (thanks Shane!!), this raises an interesting issue. In a recent Digital Production Buzz, the usually great podcast with Larry Jordan, Mike Horton and Phil Hodgetts, Larry and Mike were talking with Richard Townhill, one of the heads of the Pro Apps Group at Apple (they’re responsible for Final Cut, Soundtrack Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Logic, et al). On this show, from January 10, 2008, Townhill mentioned the bane of a post-production. Camera manufacturers are continually coming up with new formats designed to solve production problems. Now that we are deeply into tapeless work flow, manufacturers are interested in providing maximum shooting time with minimal space requirements on disk, and also decreasing record speeds (throughput).

As Townhill and Jordan both noted, these are meaningless goals in post production where we have great desktop bandwidth and unlimited amounts of relatively cheap storage at our disposal.

So the needs of camera manufacturers are, in part, opposed to the needs of editors. As a result, camera manufacturers are continually updating their codecs and capture technology. Even at the expense of editors. It took Avid about six months to test and come up with a P2 workflow. The new Sony EX codecs aren’t available yet for either platform. The Red workflow isn’t available on several NLE platforms now (since I’m told that they’ve struck a deal with Apple). Large amounts of R&D money and time need to be spent simply keeping up with camera manufacturers.

I’m not saying that this shouldn’t happen. Lord knows, I’m in favor of innovation wherever it happens (so long as it happens for user needs, rather than marketing). But these changes take time to ripple through the entire filmmaking chain. Just because the camera manufacturers have come up with a format, doesn’t mean that a project can be completed in it. And even if finishing tools are available, there’s no guarantee that they’re workable or clean (we’ve still to come up with a viable backup strategy for tapeless workflow, that combines ease of use in the field with reliable backup — the cheaper Sony EX might actually point the way).

Are you listening producers and post production schedulers?

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Good Basic FCP Tutorial

16 01 2008

Larry JordanLarry Jordan, who now runs the Digital Production Buzz podcast, has posted a pretty good first tutorial on navigating the windows in FCP. You can get to it either by checking it out on the Digital Producer Magazine website, or by going directly to the Quicktime file here.

Great Article on Editing Using FCP (Long Distance)

11 01 2008

Harry B. Miller III, editorHarry B. Miller III, ACE member and editor, wrote a great piece on the ACE Tech Web Discussion blog about editing BOOK OF BLOOD on a Final Cut system. He talks straighforwardly about what he likes and doesn’t like.

The project, is Viper-based and, therefore, completely tapeless. Even more interestingly, it was shot in Scotland and edited in Burbank, California, which made for some interesting issues, some of which I’m already dealing with on the documentary RIVERS that I’m starting to edit — in particular, file transfer.

The first stumbling block has been getting media from Scotland to Burbank. The first attempts through an ftp site were not encouraging. Although my edit room has 3 megabits per second down, the fastest download I could get was 120 kilobits per second. Attempts at three other sites had the same disappointing results. (I have heard there is a speed problem between the UK and the US, but don’t know the true situation. Anyone know?).

The first transfer that actually worked was ‘sneaker net’ – portable firewire drives were brought from Scotland to Burbank. The next option is from a company called SmartJog. It offers high speed media transfer at reasonable rates. More on this in a later post – presuming it works.

As we move further and further into a world of distance collaboration, we are going to find that our reliance on the Internet will be one of the restraining factors. We are all reliant on an increasingly overloaded and outdated backbone. It will get better, when Internet 2 and other pricier services come online. But for those of us making international films today, this is going to slow us down. Already, on RIVERS, we have shipped large files via FedEx Firewire drives, rather than online DigiDelivery. It’s all too damned slow, since we’re working in HD.

An interesting addition to this will come when they start to screen edits of the film. I don’t know if their producers are in the States or back in Scotland, but I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who have had to screen and gets notes and approvals long distance. On RIVERS I’m hoping to use Michael Buday’s Syncvue, and I’ll let you know how that works.

Some Thoughts On Avid’s Audience

5 01 2008

The following comes from two conversations that I’ve had with Libby Shoemaker, a student at USC, about Avid’s user base. It actually goes to the issue of how a company like Avid can hope to address the natural user base that surrounds a company like Apple. It was prompted by my blog entry from January 2, called “Apple point the way for Avid’s Future.”

The podcasts are good yes, but I’m thinking more of Apple’s Pro Series training books as well as DVDs and free online tutorials that independent editors post. Do two searches on Amazon–the amount of materials on Final Cut Pro’s products vs. Avid’s products are staggering. And much more economically accessible than the ALEX training. Also, my understanding of the web site is that having AVID support of the software costs money — a lot of money. I know Apple has its own charges for support, but it seems less. And because it has such a public following, I can usually resolve a problem in FCP by looking at Creative Cow, LAFCPUG or other web sites. With Avid, there is a Creative Cow forum, but the only resource that tends to have answers is the support forum. I could be wrong about some of these things and welcome any suggestions you may have, but when I’m editing on AVID at home I feel like I’m in the struggle by myself. If there’s a problem in FCP, I feel fairly confident that I can find some information to resolve the problem.The target audience for editing software has undergone a transformation in recent years. You have everyone from the professional filmmaker to the guy who does videos for his friends. I’d be interested in knowing the answer to that question myself.

Avid’s current pricing structure eliminates a bunch of people who are willing to spend money. So the challenge there is to get people past the sticker shock. I think the academic pricing is great and that the software should be offered through all universities. Also, could donate to larger high schools as windows systems tend to be the norm. However, if they want to keep their market to professionals only, I feel if you’re spending $5,000 on just a piece of software and more for support, then you deserve a free six-month pass to ALEX and telephone support. Why? Because after purchasing the computer needed to run the software, the decks you need, the camera package–well, people HAVE to eat. I like Avid’s upgrade policy. They seem pretty flexible about giving nice upgrades out without much added cost. I think that could be pushed as an added bonus because Apple upgrades frequently and rarely gives out freebies, even if the software was purchased only weeks before.

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Apple points the way for Avid’s Future

2 01 2008

Now, there’s an odd headline.  It would hardly seem that the two companies could learn much from each other (other than looking over the shoulder of the other in terms of feature sets for their NLE’s).

But in the latest MacBreak Weekly (#70) in which Leo Laporte, Alex Lindsay, Andy Ihnatko, Chris Breen, Merlin Mann, and Scott Bourne discuss what Apple might release at January’s MacWorld show. A few of the participants made the case that Apple has recently defined the art of creating products that occupy their own niches and, moreover, complement each other. Thus there is a laptop, a super small computer (iPhone and iPod touch), a desktop, and a music/media player. It is where these categories have gotten fuzzy that they’ve stumbled (see many Apple products in the 1990s as well as today’s AppleTV). Sure there are different price points within each grouping, but there are very few products with fuzzy identities.

One could even make the case that this philosophy extends to their software as well — their Pro Apps, their iLife suite.

Avid has never been particularly good at creating individually tailored product lines. Are MCSoft and Xpress Pro really different? How are Adrenaline based Composers and MCSoft with Mojo separate? And let’s not even talk about Isis and Unity and LanShare, and Interplay on top of that. I think I get NewsCutter as separate from MC, but is it really necessary? Plenty of news operations are using FCP without buying a different edition of the software?

Now, I’m not saying that some of these products don’t have a reason to live. NewsCutter may be the best tool for the job. But I suspect that there are more product lines than Avid needs, and that they need to do a better job of defining what the different lines do.

What does Apple have to show to Avid?  Better marketing of product lines.  Better definition of product lines.  Fewer product lines, in fact.

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