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Little Frog in High Def

Musings of an NLE ronin…
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Archive for June, 2012

Yesterday I took a stab at editing the show using my laptop.  The laptop in question is the new 2012 MacBook Pro…2.3Ghz i7, 8GB of RAM, matte screen. I took the external drive with the episode and connected it via Firewire 800 (glad I got the non-retina…I need that connector).  I ordered a Thunderbolt to DVI/HDMI adapter from monoprice.com for a very reasonable $14 so that I could connect it to one of my Dell 24″ monitors.  Now, the laptop on the desk is a little low, and I’d like to get it semi close to the level of my Dell that I will be connecting it to, but I didn’t get a laptop stand…not for this test.  I’m too cheap…actually, too busy to go buy one.  So I used a box.

Yes, a box.

So as you can see, I have the laptop on the left, complete with project window, bins and mixer.  The large Dell has the Composer and timeline window. Nothing feeding my broadcast monitor yet.  I’m saving up for the AJA IOXT…or at least the AJA T-TAP.  Although of those only the IO XT has dual Thunderbolt, so I could connect the IO box and external monitor.  The T-TAP has one Thunderbolt port, so it’d be a choice of external monitor, or second computer monitor.  Not both….unless I shelled out for an Apple Display.  Not gonna happen.

So I set out to edit, and edit I did.

The new computer was definitely faster than my old one…a 2008 Octo-Core 3.0Ghz Mac Pro with 16GB of RAM. It ran circles around it.  It was able to keep up with my keystrokes, where the MacPro lagged behind a few keystrokes.  It scrubbed better, less skippy. Less beach balls.  Faster renders.  It was great.

Sorta.

You see, I have a script I need to follow, and I didn’t want to print it out and waste paper.  I like to look at it on the computer. But because I was editing with my computer, I could just lean over an look at the script.  I had to hide the Avid interface, or click away from it…read…then go back.  Distracting to say the least.  And I still needed to check email, look at show notes contained in emails, tweet, and iChat with the wife.  More than a few people on Twitter suggested that I get an iPad for this.  But guys, I just shelled out $2200 for a new laptop, I’m not about to shell out $500 more for an iPad.  Not just for reading the script.  The screen was small.  I’m used to two 24″ Dells to look at.  Suddenly I had a 15″ and a 24″.  It might have been better to have the second monitor to be smaller too. I might look into that.

So I put up with it for the day, but that was it.  I switched back to the tower the next day…just so I could have my script at my ready. But I miss my laptop already as the edit station.  It was solid.  A pretty good replacement for my tower, at least for running Avid Symphony and FCP.  I haven’t tackled Premiere with it yet.  I did tackle FCP with it today, rendering out an online I am working on at the same time.  The renders were much faster, and I didn’t get any General Errors like I did with the Tower. The laptop was better.

I might have to print out the script.  Because I under such a crunch, any speed boost would help.

OK, it was only half a week.  I received the drive via UPS on Wed, a 3GB OWC drive with eSATA and FW800 connections, and began my cut.  Actually, I began on Tuesday by reading the script.  it is 98 pages long.  That normally indicates that the end product will be 98 min too, as it is typically 1 min per page. But there is a lot of screen direction on every page, so it will be shorter. Not sure how much shorter, but I think it will be longer than the target time of 48 min.

On the drive a project file and media…the project all organized for my by the assistant editor back in Virginia. There were folders for all my bins: Cuts bins, footage bins, audio bins.  The footage was all organized by scene, A camera and B camera…and by interview subject.  Audio, well, all I had for that was the narration thus far.  SFX to come soon.  Music was provided on the drive as compressed files labelled by previous episode numbers.  I uncompressed those, and imported them into a separate project, putting the media on local drives.  Because this music will be used across all three projects I will cut.  After I imported the music, I changed the name of the folder on the media drive, in the MXF folder, to “5″ so that it’s different than the other number (“1″), yet still something that Avid would see.  I then copied it to the show drive…. and then hid it on my local drives.  So that Avid wouldn’t see both and get confused.

I opened the project and opened the CURRENT CUT bin. In there was the RADIO EDIT that the assistant cut for me. What I mean by RADIO CUT is that it is all the audio (narration and interview bites) strung together according to the script.  If you played it without watching it, you’d get the story. Basically just people talking.  The producers actually have this cut before they start shooting. This was cut, and then screened, to help them plan out what they will need to shoot. So this was cut weeks, if not months, ago. No, I didn’t watch this. No need, I read the script.  But I did duplicate the sequence and name the new one ROUGH CUT v1.  I always duplicate my cuts before I make any changes.  This way, if I need to go back to anything…in case I need to recover something I lost, or use a scene the way I cut it in a previous cut, I have it.

The Radio Cut was 38 minutes long.  And as I mentioned, the show will have a target total running time of 48 min. for international, and 43:30 for domestic.  The initial cut will aim at that 48 min mark, and be seamless, with no act breaks.  From that we will cut out the small bits we call “Plus Elements,” the extra scenes international needs, and make it a 43:30 “cut to clock” with act breaks inserted.  Now, I have a lot of scenes to cut, and they will add time to the show, as there will be many cases where we use the audio from the scenes. But mostly the scenes will happen with narration or interview bites rolling under the footage.

I started by watching all the footage I had, scene by scene.  This is a MUST that all editors must do.  Watch all of the footage before you cut. And editor needs to know what they have.  Not only so that you can use the best take in the scenes, but also to know all your options.  And when a director asks, “don’t we have this shot?” or “I thought I got a close up, can we use that here?” You know what they are talking about.  Know your footage.  That is your job.  Even if you have to scrol through it at double speed, watch it all.  Well, you can’t scrub through dialog at 2x speed.  B-Roll and action shots you can.  Dialog has to be watched.

Now, there was one show I was on where I didn’t have time to watch all the footage. It was a “reality show” (loosest use of the term) and I was given 80 hours of footage to cut in 40 hours time…into a rough cut, with music and SFX added.  So I literally had no time to watch everything.  I went for the last take and used those (typically they are the best, as that is when the director was satisfied with the performance) and cut as fast as I could.  When the director asked, “Is that the best take?” I wouldn’t know. I’d have to then look at the others.  They did get annoyed if I found a better one, but what could I do? I had no time to watch everything.

Watch everything…if you can. It’s important.

I also needed to do a few things the assistant didn’t…group clips.  Not all of them…there were many times when they shot with both cameras but far enough apart that a slate would have been problematic. And far enough apart that we didn’t need them synched.  But when both cameras were on the same subject, I needed to group the clips.  The issue was that there were no slates, and no hand claps.  Because of that the assistant and post super decided to not group, and said I should treat all the camera angles as separate shots.  I found in many cases it was preferred to group, so I did. Via audio cues.  There was a door slam in one take, but for most I went on when the director called ACTION.  The cameras were jam synced on the set at the beginning of each scene, but they drifted apart after every take. Oddness that the camera guys couldn’t figure out.  So I couldn’t just group using timecode.

By the end of day Friday, I have cut 10 min of show time, and it is adding lot of time to the cut.  I figure I will end up with perhaps 60-65 min by the time I am done.  But that’s only a guess. That means that a lot will have to be cut, and the pacing changed in order to get us to time.

Oh…just a bit about cutting with Avid.  This NLE isn’t new to me. I started on it and used it for 10 years before I switched to FCP…so going back isn’t too hard.  Even though this is the newest version…Avid Symphony 6.0.1.1…it is pretty much exactly the same as it always has been, but with new features.  I don’t use the Smart Tool on all the time, I use it the same way it always worked, activating the tools I need when I need them. Trim mode, select arrows. I’m using Avid as an Avid…not activating the Smart Tool to make the tools act semi-FCP like.  It isn’t quite the same, so I’d rather just use Avid as Avid.  And since this is very much a narrative show in how it is shot, the trim tools come in VERY handy.

The footage was shot using two Canon C300 cameras.  And it looks AMAZING, by the way. They are using fixed focal length lenses, and spending a lot of time lighting, so the footage looks great. The format the cameras shoot is XDCAM in an MXF wrapper, something Avid deals with natively.  So we are accessing the footage via AMA, then consolidating it in the native format to the media drives.  We aren’t transcoding to DNxHD 145…we are sticking to native as the file sizes are smaller and the consolidation time is shorter.  It plays back fine…smooth without skipping. And I am able to group the two angles and play back fine.

After a few days on my 2008 Octo-Core 3.0Ghz Mac Pro with 16GB of RAM, I’m going to be switching to my new 2012 2.3Ghz MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM…to see if there is any noticeable speed difference. That’ll be the subject of a future blog post.

Still not using it.

Why?

I don’t like the editing paradigm it employs.

‘Nuff said.

I got the script for my episode today.  It reads exactly like a narrative script.  And, well, it is.  Full of recreations, and written in normal script form. Now, I can’t post the script online, not even one page.  But…for example, it goes like this:

1     INT SMALL OLD HOUSE – DAY

And old house sits tucked into a the middle of a small cul de sac.  Several vehicles fill the driveway and surrounding street.

NARRATOR

And then the narrator says a line, and then it cuts to the interior for scene 2 where several people engage in conversation…all in normal script style.  Then it cuts to interview bites, and goes back and forth between interview and the recreations.  This makes me wonder if I should get Script Sync.  Wondering if it would be worth the cost.  I’m only doing three episodes.  I might see how the first one goes without it.  I see that there is a free trial, but it points to an old Avid Media Composer download page.

Anyway…reading the script tonight.  After that, I’ll watch an old episode online. I receive the drive with the project file and footage tomorrow morning via FedEx.

*snifff!*  I love that new computer smell.

Yes, I did it.  I got a new MacBook Pro.  2.3Ghz i7 with 8GB of RAM.

My older one…a 2008 model…had a cracked LCD that I tried to replace, and it worked for a while, but the panel just won’t continue to work. Loos connection.  And then my entertainment center MacMini died (logic board), so I put my old MBP in the entertainment center…and waited 3 weeks until WWDC and the new MacBook Pro announcements.  It paid off…a new one was released.

But TWO were released.  An updated original, and the new ‘retina display’ model.  I opted to get the updated original, as it has all the connection types I need, and I can update components when I see fit. The new Retina MBP is non-upgradeable.  The RAM is soldered on, the battery is glued in, the hard drive is soldered and glued, the GFX card is soldered in.  If anything breaks…you need to send the unit in and get it replaced. Plus I hate…and I mean totally despise…the GLOSSY display.  They blow chunks.  Rarely am I in “ideal lighting conditions” with my laptop.

So I special ordered the new updated MBP.  And it arrived today.  Woot!

But, it shipped with the most current OS, 10.7.4.  As it should.  Only I plan on installing Avid Symphony 6 on this, as well as FCP Legacy and Adobe CS6, and the current version of Avid MC and Symphony is only supported on 10.7.2.  So…I’m going to install Lion fresh, and then the combo update to 10.7.2.  And then copy over all my data and install apps.  I do plan on using this on my new Avid show, just to see how it performs vs my 2008 MacPro.

EDIT: Seems I cannot even BOOT to Lion 10.7.1.  That’s surprising.  I knew I couldn’t boot to a previous major OS, like Snow Leopard.  But a dot.update?  Surprising.  Guess I’ll be running Symphony under a non-supported system for the time being.

…as in “going native.”  Get it?  OK, sorry…moving on.

I have a new project starting up in June.  This is a revival of a TV series that aired on the Discovery Channel called “A Haunting.”  The name is changing slightly to “An American Haunting,” but will pick up where the last series ended, episode number wise.  This time it is going to be aired on the new DESTINATION AMERICA network, one of their secondary channels.

This will be an interesting project, as it is being produced by New Dominion Pictures out of Suffolk, Virginia…with interviews done around the country and re-creations being shot on the New Dominion backlot in Suffolk…and post will happen in Los Angeles.  Well, not only L.A., two of the three editors will be here.  The third is on the east coast, based out of Philly, although he is relocating to Virginia for the production so that one editor is at home base.  The assistant editor will also be in Suffolk in the main offices, and will prep the footage for the editors there.

(New Dominion was a very busy production company 10 years ago, with multiple shows happening at the same time. But they had to shutter their doors and sell off just about everything when the re-creation market dried up in favor of cheaper “reality” programming. Thus the need to re-build from the ground up).

It will be shot with the new Canon C300, and we will have two of them going.  The camera shoots to MXF in the XDCAM format, and that is only one of the reasons we have decided to use Avid Media Composer, and Symphony, to cut and finish this show. We will use AMA to access the media, then consolidate it to our drives, keeping it in the native format. In many cases, these files will then be grouped as multi-camera clips. We’ve done a few tests, and it seems to work well. And the plan is to finish using the Symphony software, that all of us editors will have anyway.

Final Cut Pro 7 was touched upon, but because of the cameras used, the transcode time involved…and because we want to move forward with technology that will keep up with the ever changing production landscape, we opted to go with Avid Symphony and Media Composer 6.  Build systems that will move forward.  Yes, there is Adobe Premiere…but because the assisting will be done in Virginia, and media shipped to Los Angeles, and all sorts of media management needing to happen, and needing to be rock solid, Avid seemed like the obvious choice.

FCP-X was mentioned, but not considered, as none of the editors were interested in using it.

Adobe CS6 was a thought…because of how it works with files natively.  And because the editing workflow, editing language, was very close to FCP 7.  And all the editors were well versed with FCP 7. But the main reason we chose not to use it was media management issues.  Currently they are below where FCP 7 is…and as many know, FCP 7’s media management was pretty iffy.  I will be more than willing to use Premiere Pro CS6 on a single editor show or special…and for many of the smaller projects I work on.  But for this show, with an assistant editor in Virginia, ingesting and organizing the media for two editors in L.A. and the other in a third location, and with a short production schedule, we opted to go for Avid editing solutions as they are tried and true with media management. Rock solid.  And with Symphony being offered to people with FCP 7 licenses for $999…all three editors will be going that route. The main office going for Media Composer, as they are starting post from the ground up.

This will give me the opportunity to edit full time in my home office on my system. Lately I have been working on systems at production companies primarily, and using my system for smaller side projects that I do after hours. I will be able to sit in front of my own system, full time, for the first time in over a year. During the heat of the summer, so I need to make sure the huge stand-alone AC unit is up and running soon.

And just as I started this blog when I made my transition from FCP to Avid…now I’ll blog about my transition from FCP back to Avid.  Triumphs and frustrations.

Ray Bradbury’s passing today reminded me of something that happened to me in college. The year was 1993, and I was a film student at Montana State University, and a huge Bradbury fan. I had just read a collection of short stories, and one stuck out to me. Affected me greatly. BLESS ME FATHER… I thought this would make a great film, but not wanting to limit this to a student project, I actually looked into securing the filming rights to the story. So I went to the bookstore to look at a recent Bradbury book to find the publisher (again, this is in 1993, so before the internet boom). I wrote the publisher…via snail mail… and asked how I could get in contact with Mr. Bradbury or his agent, so that I could look into securing the rights of a story to make a short film.

A short time later I got a letter from the publisher giving me the address of his agent. And so I wrote the agent asking if he could please pass on my request to Mr. Bradbury. I included a letter addressed to him directly.

Well, some time had passed, and the class project was coming to a point where we needed to make a decision rather quickly as to what script we’d be going with. And it was just before Halloween that a letter from Ray Bradbury himself arrived in my mailbox. A fuzzy pumpkin sticker on the front. And inside was perhaps the best rejection letter I have ever received. He was very nice, very polite…and let me down gently. And then commented on my production company name…hoping that when I made it in Hollywood, that it’d change. I nice little “P.S.” joke. Honest to god, the rejection letter warmed my heart.

In hearing of his passing, I dug through my files for half the morning, and finally found that letter.

The only rejection letter I want framed.

(Should I rename the blog to BIG POND IN HIGH DEF?)