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Little Frog in High Def

Musings of an NLE ronin…

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Archive for April, 2015

There’s a new trend that has come about because of digital cinematography. Not only longer takes, but more footage overall.

Back in the days of shooting film, you’d hear the words: “Roll sound.  Roll camera. ACTION!”  And then, after the scene was over, the words “cut!”  You might also hear the words “check the gate,” meaning look for hairs or dust in the film gate, but that’s besides the point.  OK, we still hear those words, especially when rolling second system audio (audio recorded separate from picture)…but a new trend is happening, something not encountered when shooting film.  Longer and longer takes.

When shooting film, one tended to be economical. Meaning, you shot only the scene, and when it was done, you stopped.  Because film is expensive, as is processing that film. So you set up your shots, rolled film, got the take, stopped, and reset for take two.  You’d use the time between takes to give the actors and crew directions, reset props and touch up makeup, etc. And when you were done with the main shots, you’d move in for inserts and pickups.  Shooting the actors saying crucial lines or giving needed reactions.

This wasn’t limited to film. This was also done when shooting to tape. Because you didn’t want to use up all your tape…you shot practically.

But now, with the advent of tapeless media, things have changed. First off the amount of footage we get has increased by a major factor. On narrative projects, when we shot on film we’d get an hour or two of dailies per day. With tapeless, that has increased to between 4 to 6 hours of dailies per day.  And us editors still need to watch every bit of that footage.  That doesn’t leave much time to actually cut.  And the production schedule…the edit schedule…hasn’t changed. So days get longer and longer. Deadlines might get pushed, but that’s rare. So this means the hours the editor works in a day…a week…increases.

What’s going on with this increase of footage?  Well, many things.  One thing that happens is that one “take” actually consists of multiple takes. The director doesn’t call “cut,” he simply says “OK, reset to one quickly” and while the camera is rolling, they do another take, or multiple takes.  Recently I had one “slated take” that consisted of multiple resets. So one slated take contained five “takes.”  That scene had four slated takes, and those four takes consisted of twelve actual takes.

Also, a lot of things can happen between the takes…and all while no one called cut For example, a friend of mine had a scene where one slated take was eight minutes long. In that eight minutes there was one minutes and thirty seconds of the director giving directions before action is started. He called for cameras and sound to roll, and then went to give directions.  Finally he called “action,”  and the shot took one minute from start to finish.  Then while the camera was rolling the scene was reset, notes were given, makeup re-applied…6 minutes of general hub bub…and then another one minute take.

This is something that would never happen when shooting film.  I recall being called to the set because they were doing a pickup of a scene and they needed me, the editor, on set so that they could make sure the continuity was right. The director asked if I was ready, then called “action.”  When it got to the part I needed input on, I paused, trying to remember. “COME ON!” the director prodded, “we’re rolling!  Quickly quickly!”  I gave my direction, they did the scene and called “cut.”  Film is expensive. (I mentioned that)

Another thing that can happen is smaller resets in the one slated take.  That same friend of mine worked on a show where one slated take contains the full scene…but also the director will stop the actors in scene and have them repeat lines. Not once, but five to six times, maybe more. And not in one part of the scene, but he would stop them several times.  The director will also stop several times to prod the actors to give better, or different, reactions.  Redo moves.  Basically the one slated take will also be minutes long and contain lots of bits and pieces to complete the scene.  The scene itself, and all the pickups.  Not only does this make cutting more challenging. But now the editor needs to scrutinize every second of the dailies, and dig through all of this for not only the best scene, but all the good reactions and lines, and then cut that all together, cohesively.

And yet, as I said before, post schedules don’t change, so this leads to longer than 10 hour days, or working on the weekends. Often without overtime pay.

Now, it can be argued that doing this makes for a better show. And that is true, because some good performances can be had, and great reactions…stuff missed when you only have 3-4 full takes. This might just produce that one golden moment or reaction that makes the scene shine. Another argument is that stopping down the scene and needing to go in an reset and slate adds more time to the production schedule. So doing multiple takes in one slated take can save precious minutes.

I can understand that.  Still, some happy medium needs to be struck. Saving time on one end adds time to another. And post is the cheaper side of that argument. But a little extra time should be considered for the post side, in order to deal with the added amount of dailies.

I didn’t mention reality shows at all, because not much has changed there. They roll and roll and roll, and always have, because they are documenting what is happening. STACKS of tapes arrived at the office daily from DEADLIEST CATCH.  Five ships, three to four cameras per ship…filming nearly 24/7.  We have always gotten lots of footage from reality shoots. And that’s one reason they take so long to edit.  The editors have to sift through all of that footage to look for the gold. Even when we have story producers who pull selected scenes for us to work with, us editors need to watch all the footage surrounding that moment…if we are given the time to do so.

Finally, another regular blog post, after 2 years of sparse activity…barring a few reviews (another coming). This was due to the fact that I was under NDA at the company I worked for. All I could say was that I was working on a certain show. Beyond that…I couldn’t say anything. On that note, for the past two years I’ve worked on two seasons of ANCIENT ALIENS, two seasons of AMERICA’S BOOK OF SECRETS, a short series called BIBLE SECRETS REVEALED and two seasons of THE CURSE OF OAK ISLAND. With a handful of specials and a few shows that I’ve onlined and color corrected. One of those series that I color corrected was for Werner Herzog…which is really cool! A cinematic hero of mine. But other than saying “I made Werner Herzog shows look pretty,” I didn’t have much to say about the shows…technically speaking.

OK, there was one great thing. He framed one interview to include a window, because there was a view of the freeway outside of it. It was blown out and he wanted me to do a power window and fix it as best I could, because he wanted to see the cars. He loved cars, ever since he was a young boy growing up in Bavaria, where he was so poor that he nor his friends could afford one. When one would drive by on the road, he and his friends would all run to see it drive by.  OK…there, got that out of the way.

Now, back to A HAUNTING.  I did cut 3 episode of season 5 this fun show 3 years ago…and I blogged about it starting with this post. And I have done the fine cut notes one episode, and recut another episode with another editor in the past year. Those fixes lured me back. That and being able to work from home…that’s a big bonus. No commute so those hours can be…well…used to work a little longer on the show.

Another bonus is being able to have my kids watch me work, which they like to do. And they like the show, too. And they really like seeing how the show is put together. My youngest (age 11) will come into my office and watch me watch dailies, and then assemble a scene. I’ll even be a bit sly and educate her on editing, by ask her advice about which take she thinks is the best. Most often it’s the one I thought as well. Other times, she’ll point out some part of a take that I might not notice. Some reaction that she likes…and it’s nice to have that perspective.  I’ll ask her when she thinks I should cut…and why. And what she thinks I should cut to. It’s pretty fun.

Today she sat behind me as I was beginning to score a scene and add SFX. She really likes to see a scene come together with sound effects and music. She marvels at how a small effect will impact things…and how many I layer really fills out a scene. “It makes the scene…you know…more rich. Less hollow.”  Good way to describe it.

So, in this scene the character begins to vacuum and hears a sound in the kitchen…but he’s alone in the house. He stops looks around, calls for his wife…then shrugs and goes back to vacuuming. A sound happens again, and again he stops to investigate. While he’s looking about he hears another sound, turns around and then the ghost appears.  Well, in the filming of the scene when the actor starts the vacuum, there is no vacuum sound. That is something I need to add. And in both cases where the actor needs to react to the sounds, the director can be heard saying “SOUND” in the background.  “How are you going to get rid of the director talking?” my daughter asked. “Why did the director even talk..that makes this difficult.”

“Well, let’s see. If I remove the sound of the director…what does that do?” And I do…and as expected, having audio cut out to complete silence was jarring. “Well, you can’t do that,” she replied. “Now it sounds empty…and it’s too abrupt.” I was able to explain to her about the use of “room tone” in situations just like this.  But this was tricky as the actor was performing an action….moving a vacuum on the floor.  The room tone worked for the third time the actor hears the sound, for the vacuum is off and the actor is still, looking about the house. But for the other two times. The first thing I did was add the sound of the vacuum…which helped a bit, but you could still hear the audio cut out as the sound of the vacuum moving on the floor can be heard, and then suddenly not heard.

“What do we do about that?” she asked.

“Well,” I replied, “we need a similar sound…of the vacuum moving on the floor, right? So I just need to grab some audio from a time he’s moving the vacuum and match the motion…so we cut out when he’s pushing it forward. Let’s find another place where he’s pushing it forward, and use that.” I did and it worked great.  So after adding the vacuum, and patching the hole where the director spoke, I then looked for a sound to occur.  I chose a loud floor creak, as that’s something that one might think a person could make…but could also be a sound a ghost makes.  And then I sweetened that with a low boom sound effect when the actor reacts to the sound.  And looked or a place where the music goes from a low tension drone to have a musical sting.  And then back timed that and mixed the track so the edit was smooth.

After a couple hours we had the scene edited and with layers of audio. And with that my daughter excused herself to go inside and have a snack, and then go for a bike ride. But during the time I had her with me, she was engaged and really enjoyed herself.  Thinking that I might have one of my kids following in my foot steps.