I don’t usually write about the individual projects I work on, but I thought I’d take a page from Shane Ross‘s playbook and do a little first-person story-telling for once. I wanted to share a real-world challenge that I faced recently on my current show and how I used my knowledge of Avid software to pinpoint the root of the problem and fix it. It’s situations like these where you really have to think on your feet; because of the unique nature of the problem, no manual or editing class can prepare you for what course of action to take. You simply have to extrapolate your knowledge of the program and use all of the tools at your disposal. Imagine an artist with a giant rectangular block of granite in front of him – somewhere in there lies the beautiful statue that is pictured in his head, and it’s his job to find it. Sure, it’s possible to use a single chisel and hammer to hack away until something resembling a human figure appears, but with careful planning, a variety of specialized tools, and a delicate hand, the goal he strives for is much more likely to be attained.
But I digress. Here is the problem I faced, and here’s how I went about solving it. As always, I’m using an Avid system. You may find this extremely boring and/or over your head, but if you’re an editing geek like me it might be a useful opportunity to hear about some real-world problem-solving.
An episode of our network show has been locked exactly to time. The other assistants and I have formatted everything to the proper online specifications, made EDL’s and OMF’s for the audio mixer, delivered the Avid bin to the online Symphony editor, and output split-track chase tapes for both facilities. A couple days later, the producers decide they want to add a 7-second shot at the end of the show. This necessitates a 7-second extraction somewhere else in the show. So they task the editor with making the changes and delivering them to us (the assistants) for distribution to the online and mixing facilities, which have already started working on the episode. This makes re-delivering the entire show out of the realm of possibility. I am given two sub-sequences from the master sequence – one of the section with contracted time, and one of the last minute of the show with the extra 7 seconds. Both changes occur in the final act of the show.
The master timecodes of the subsequences do not match my sequence master timecode from the previously locked version. Where do I cut them in?
The editor must have been working from a sequence before it was properly formatted to time. Luckily for me, he included some handles on his changes, so the first and last shots correspond exactly with the previously locked version. I first load a copy of the previously locked sequence in the record monitor, then load the changes into the source monitor and park the playhead on the first frame. I then reverse-matchframe, and the playhead in the timeline jumps directly to the corresponding frame in the sequence. In order to make sure I’m at the correct instance of the clip (if it’s used more than once), I gang the two sequences together and scrub through them slowly. This allows me to evaluate exactly what has changed, as the source monitor displays the new version and the record monitor displays the old version. So I’ve located where the changes should be cut in. Problem #1 solved.
If there were merely a swapped shot or two and no time was changed, we could simply overwrite the old version with the new version. However, 7 seconds has to come out of there somewhere. How do we pull out the correct amount of time and still have a seamless show?
When I reverse-matchframe from the first frame of the changes, I set an in-point on that frame of the original sequence. Instead of cutting in the changes solely based on that inpoint, I also reverse-matchframe the last frame of the changes (remember, the first and last shots were left unchanged). This is where I want to set my out-point in the record monitor. So now, if I mark an in-to-0ut on the entire sequence in the source monitor, I will have the section to add marked correctly in the source monitor and the section to be replaced marked correctly in the record monitor. It is important to note that THESE SECTIONS HAVE DIFFERENT DURATIONS. This is how the 7 seconds will be taken out. I merely have to extract (not lift) the section out of the record monitor and splice in (not overwrite) the source material starting at that exact spot. There were some audio clips that were split by the splice, but I can simply set an in and out around the inserted changes and “Remove Match Frame Edits” and voila, there’s no evidence I ever made a change. Problem #2 solved.
So after adding the 7-second shot at the end of the show to balance out the time I just removed earlier in the sequence, I discover that we’re coming up 10 frames short on our running time. After double-checking everything I did and playing through the changed sections, I decide that the error was not on my end. Turns out the editor gave me changes that were not exactly to time. How and where do I add the necessary time while minimizing the disruption to the online edit and mix, which are already in full swing? Not to mention the fact that content cannot drastically change, and music must remain relatively seamless. Keep in mind it is midnight, and the editor has already gone home and the changes definitely need to be implemented tonight!
My first thought is to add time in one of the changed sections – since these sections are different anyway, it won’t matter to the online or the mix to change them a little more – they’ll still get an insert of just that section. Normally, that would be the way to go. However, in this case I decide to go talk to the online assistant editor, who fortunately happens to work under the same roof, to see how he wants to deal with the problem. He informs me that the online editor already received the changes directly from the editor and cut them in, and his show is exactly to time!
How is the online sequence correct while mine is incorrect, and where is the discrepancy?
I get the online assist to subsequence the entire final act of the show, where all the changes take place, and deliver the bin to me on a Flashdrive. I load it into my Avid (the hi-rez media is offline, of course, but I just need to use the unlinked sequence to do my sleuthing) and gang it with my sequence, starting on the first frame of the act. Jumping through the act shot by shot (with my version and the online version in perfect sync), I eventually discover a shot that is 10 frames longer in the online edit than in the changes the editor gave me. Now everything begins to make sense. Turns out the editor and online editor made the changes directly in the online edit and then tried to re-create the changes in the offline edit for me and missed extending that one shot. All I have to do is trim that shot out for 10 more frames, and everything is perfectly in sync. Problems #1-4 solved, and I can finally make accurate OMF’s, EDL’s, and chase tapes of the changes for the mixer.
So after several hours of intense problem-solving, everything is back to normal and the show goes on as if nothing ever happened. Much like a referee, an assistant editor is invisible when they’re doing a good job and the fall guy when they make one mistake. All in a day’s work, right? That’s why they pay us the “big bucks.”