ScriptSyncMost of my professional editorial experience is in the reality TV world, where the footage usually dictates the story, as opposed to the other way around for fictional, script-based storytelling.  But recently I got involved with my first scripted project in several years – a web series about the lives of three twenty-something male roommates living in Los Angeles (visit to see the pilot episode, which I did not edit).  As a frequent reader of online editing blogs similar to this one, I’d heard about a feature called “ScriptSync” that a small but devoted number of Avid users raved about.  For the first episode of the web series that I was assigned to cut, I decided to try out script-based editing and see what all the fuss was about.

After a few minutes of clumsily trying to figure out how to import my script and attach various takes to it, I was soon off and running with Avid’s fairly intuitive script interface.  At this point, your script must be a text file – a limitation that I hope will eventually be broadened to include options for PDF’s and even Final Draft files, which would save some time copying and pasting text between applications.  Once your script is imported into Media Composer, it shows up in your project window and can be opened, closed, moved, and renamed like a bin.

My biggest concern was that grouped footage would not be able to be mapped to the script, since most of our webisodes are shot with two cameras and a separate digital audio recorder.  Turns out my worries were unfounded; groups can be assigned to the script just as easily as master clips.  The process of “lining” the script with your footage is as simple as lassoing whatever dialogue a certain take encompasses and then dragging the clip onto the script.  Media Composer will automatically line the script with your take and include a thumbnail of your shot that can be dragged to any point along the vertical line for convenient placement (even above or below where the take begins and ends).  I couldn’t figure out how to change a shot’s thumbnail once a take was assigned to the script, so I found it useful to assign an appropriate thumbnail for each shot in “Frame” view in my footage bin before lining the script.

Once you’re finished with all your takes, you’ll have a lined script that will rival any script supervisor’s (and you don’t have to deal with messily written take numbers or hastily drawn lines).  From here, you can add script marks manually or let ScriptSync work its magic.  Applying ScriptSync is as easy as selecting all the takes on your lined script and clicking “ScriptSync” from the Script menu.  A dialog box will pop up asking what language your dialogue is in, which audio track you would like it to scan for dialogue, and a few other options pertaining to the formatting of your script.  Once you click OK, sit back for a few minutes and let Media Composer do its thing.

When it’s done analyzing your audio, your lined script will now have hash marks down the length of each lined take matching up the script dialogue to the point in each take where that line of dialogue is spoken.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Media Composer uses voice recognition algorithms to match each line of dialogue in your script to its spoken delivery.  By double-clicking any script mark, you instantly load that take in your Source monitor, cued up to that specific line, with an in-point already set for you.  Comparing line readings between different takes is as easy as hitting the Tab key.  Needless to say, this completely eliminates the time-consuming process of scrubbing through a clip looking for a specific line.


Click the thumbnail to see a screen grab of a lined script from "Guess Again"

Truth be told, I’ve found the voice recognition to be a little bit finicky, especially when it comes to improvisation, overlapping dialogue, resets within the same take, and crew noise and discussion before and after the scene.  It may help to subclip only the usable parts of each take before assigning them to the script, to avoid confusing the voice recognition with useless chatter.  You can also add script marks manually if you prefer by navigating to the appropriate point in your shot, highlighting the take on your script and the appropriate line of dialogue, and clicking “Add script mark.”  I am currently trying to find the right balance of harnessing the power of ScriptSync’s voice recognition and adding marks exactly where I want them.

Ultimately, I think ScriptSync is probably most useful for dialogue-heavy productions that stick to the script most of the time.  However, Media Composer’s script functions are flexible enough to cater to the needs of any production with dialogue.  A possible use for reality shows and documentaries could be linking up interviews with their typed transcripts, allowing for instant cueing by an editor.

I’m still in the early stages of experimentation with script-based editing, but I’ve already decided to adopt the workflow for all my script-based projects.  It lets me do more work in a shorter amount of time, allowing me to assign virtually all of my brain power to how to make the best edit, rather than trying to find a particular spot in the raw footage.  As en editor working alone, it can be cumbersome to prepare the script before you start to edit, but if you have the luxury of having an assistant, all the time-consuming work can get done for you!

Here is a list of features that I hope already exist and I just haven’t found yet.  If you know the secrets to any of them, please post in the comments.  If they don’t exist yet, here’s hoping that Avid’s got updates planned for the near future.

  • more importable file formats for scripts that preserve all formatting
  • full text-based script editing within Media Composer, with Microsoft Word-like functions for highlighting and adding notes
  • the ability to pre-set where you want marks to be placed before initiating ScriptSync (Avid tends to overdo it if a line of dialogue takes up more than one line of the script)
  • the ability to slide marks through a clip to adjust them, rather than deleting and resetting them
  • commands to jump to the next or previous script mark (like jumping between locators)
  • the ability to load a clip from your script without automatically setting an in-point by double-clicking the thumbnail
  • the option to set a different thumbnail on the script than exists in the bin (also, support for 16×9 thumbnails would be nice)
  • an option to allow the thumbnails to “travel with you” as you scroll down the script, so you don’t have to drag them all down en masse as you progress
  • the ability to assign different characters in the script to different mic channels

Next time you’ve got a little extra time for experimentation, give script-based editing a try and see what you think.  You may fall in love with it and never look back!  If you want to read more about script-based editing, check out Avid’s ScriptSync page (with useful video tutorials) and an article by television comedy editor Robert Bramwell in the Editors Guild Magazine.