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…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.