technical skill

sculptorI 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. (more…)

Avid command palatte

Once you’ve been working on Avid for awhile, you begin to internalize the steps needed to perform a certain series of actions. Eventually, you will find yourself thinking faster than the Avid can keep up, especially when working on a slow machine. It can be frustrating to hit a button, wait several seconds, and then press the next button.

Fortunately, Avid is designed to remember a series of commands, even as it is performing another function. This allows you to press keys as fast as you can think of them while the computer does something else.

For example, when I’m tweaking an effect in Effect Mode, once I start the render, I immediately hit the “Source/Record Editing” key, click on a spot prior to the effect in my timeline, and hit “Play”. While I’m checking my e-mail, Avid will finish rendering the effect, jump back to the appropriate place in the timeline, and begin playing, which cues me to start paying attention to make sure the effect plays correctly.

Test out your own keystroke combinations, and save yourself some valuable e-mailing/texting/reading time!

I’m a realist. Long ago I abandoned my dream of becoming a writer/director. It was around the time I realized I couldn’t pen a single sentence of meaningful dialogue or instruct an actor with any degree of confidence. Sometimes it’s best to be honest with yourself. But one thing I found myself drawn to in editing was how you could manipulate images and sounds to construct a perceived reality that was almost totally different from the conditions in which the material was recorded.

Any hack can string a bunch of images together; but as anyone with a real filmmaking sense knows, it takes a skilled artist to be able to control the numerous unseen factors that come into play when telling a story through images. Aside from the photographic decisions of camera placement and frame size that the editor takes into account, there are certain elements – emotion, tone, rhythm, pacing – that are more intangible and flexible when it comes to storytelling. (more…)

Media Composer’s “Group Clips” feature is best suited for very simple multicamera shoots. As long as all of the cameras start and stop around the same time with no drop-outs in between, and as long as the timecode was shot time-of-day and jam-synced between cameras right before the shoot, you can easily make groups in a matter of seconds. In practice, however, it is rarely this simple. Cameramen with itchy trigger fingers start and stop recording every few seconds, independently of the other cameramen. This can cause the shots in a group to cycle through all of the available window positions in the four-frame display and force you to use the nine-frame view with smaller thumbnails. Maybe both cameras stopped shooting for a period of time, but you want to include footage after the break in your group. Sometimes production jam-syncs the cameras once in the morning, and by the afternoon they have drifted several frames out of sync. Luckily, there is a way to work around all of these issues and create convenient multigroups that contain all of your footage for a given scene and are perfectly in sync. Each camera can drop in and out, and the multigroup will automatically adjust and play smoothly throughout the duration of the footage. Put your thinking caps on – this tutorial is not for the faint of heart. (more…)

Da Vinci

Editing is often underappreciated due to people’s lack of comprehension as to what an editor does and how it is important. Along the same lines, and perhaps to an even more extreme degree, professional colorists usually do not get the respect they deserve. The untrained eye often cannot distinguish the work of an expert colorist from untreated raw footage unless it is compared side by side. I admit to being rather novice at noticing good color correction myself (I like to use my red-green colorblindness as an excuse), but the first time I sat in on a Da Vinci session as a post P.A., I was blown away by the scope and precision of the colorist’s work. Not only did he correct for hue, brightness, and contrast errors in the original footage, but he also was able to enhance the tone and mood of each scene by applying lighting gradients and shading that did not previously exist. In short, he was able to turn ordinary looking footage into much more than what it was originally. And for that reason, colorists are rightfully qualified as creative artists, just as editors are. (Equally underappreciated: audio mixers, sound designers, and Foley artists, but I’ll save that for another post). Take a look at this series of images, all of the same shot, but with different color and lighting effects applied to each. They will help elucidate just how much creative effort goes into the color correction of each shot and prove how important it is to spend the money for a true online edit with an experienced colorist.


In order to be a successful editor, you need to possess a masterful ability to control pacing, character, and story, all while using a style that fits the tone and subject matter of the piece, but is uniquely your own. Easier said than done (every editor has probably had numerous run-ins with people who think the editor simply “removes the bad parts” and selects the best takes, and the rest of the film creates itself).

In order to be able to implement your creative vision, though, you also need to possess a certain mastery of the tools used to edit a film or television show together. Until recently, this was done with expensive specialized hardware (KEMs, Moviolas, Steenbecks, etc.); now the vast majority of it is done with computers. The learning curve has been significantly flattened, as anyone with a Mac computer and a copy of Final Cut Pro can edit their own movies as easily as a professional editor can. (more…)