Well, I guess I’ve gotten vain enough to assume that I might know a thing or two about Avids and editing. So perhaps the world would be a better place if I shared my seemingly limitless knowledge (?). Occasional tips that relate to offline and online editing, Photoshop (my right hand), After Effects (my third hand) and managing media and other files. Throw in the occasional rant to let off some steam and you get the gist . Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


011- I read somewhere that people who write blogs pontificate about things they know very little about. I know very little about sound. Here’s my blog.

When I was a baby my mother and father lived in a small apartment that lived right behind the Chicago stockyards. Every night these trains would get slammed together and roll out before dawn. Y’know the song? “Ridin’ on the City of New Orleans…Illinois central Monday morning rail…”. Yup, those stock yards. Huge areas devoted to managing freight trains. We’re talking a lot of noise. Constant noise. And I slept through it all. Dad always said that’s why today I could sleep through anything.

I like to talk a lot about audio to anyone within earshot (get it? – A pun!) . For me, and I know I’ve said this already, editing picture is 50% about sound. Which is odd given our need for equipment that frequently goes “whirrrrrrr”. Or perhaps you didn’t notice.

You didn’t notice, or rather you STOPPED noticing, because your brain has a great way of tuning that crap out. If it didn’t people could never live in modern cities. Florescent buzz, exhaust fans, car engines, planes, trains, you-name-it constantly surrounds us. The brain makes it all go away so you can concentrate, focus if you will, on what’s important.

Back to picture for a moment. You know how your eyes compensate for different temperatures of light but cameras can’t do this so well -- so sometimes to get a bad colour cast to footage because the colour balance was set incorrectly? Well, location sound recordings are the same way. They do a very bad job of filtering noise. In fact they usually try hard to accentuate it.

That’s why sound mixers frequently work so hard to get rid of all that noise. They have filters and compressors and all sorts of newfangled plug-ins designed to clean all that up. And a lot of the time it is a good idea, especially if the voices you’re trying to hear are unintelligible due to noise.

But sometimes they do all that filtering and it turns out sounding bad. You see many sound mixers, even “the best” ones, feel that the best possible world is a soundscape which is pristine. Where voices emanate from a noiseless atmosphere. And, frankly, it just never sounds right.

Whenever I want to do any kind of ADR (additional dialogue recording) to replace an actor in a scene I usually drag them outside, not in a studio. Why? Well because the world we live in isn’t perfect. And the way a voice interacts with that world has a particular sound signature that makes it sound real. Outside is dramatically different from inside. When ADR work is done in studio it sounds…well… wrong. The sound gets too clean. Nature isn’t like that. And adding any reverb or sound in later isn’t the same as the subtle pattern a voice makes when it bounces around and back to the microphone on location.

What does this have to do with editing (like a Fish)? Just this week I was working on a dialogue cut where the person speaking on camera was in a store which had beer fridges. Those fridges were doing their level best to be heard on camera. Now normally you send that off to a sound mixer and their first instinct is to clamp that noise down. But that noise sneaks in and around the voices when the clamp isn’t quite there. The result is an awkward NOISE-no noise-NOISE factor that brutally cuts in and out every single time the person utters a bit of sound. It’s very disconcerting to the ear…and to the brain.

Imagine that whir from your gear around you (the fans) turned on and off and on and off in random intervals. It would drive your crazy. Thus why clamping doesn’t work in a mix. Bad, bad, bad.

So my tip for you this week is to add noise between your dialogue edits. That’s right - add it. Each time you edit a bit of dialogue don’t leave the track bare. Instead fill it with the blank noise that was around the person at the time. For those who don’t know this it is called “room tone”. A good location sound recordist will provide this room tone for you in a separate clip. But often I find it necessary to try and find some sound very close to the time the person was speaking. This is because of subtle variations in sound that occur as time passes on any location.

The result is it smoothes out everything. And when you play it back the brain does its usual job of filtering it out for you. You don’t hear the noise because it’s always there and as a result the mix sounds not only better but also more natural.

Sound mixers have debated me on this use of room tone and the ADR recording techniques I do. Many tell me I’m wrong. I grant you that they are the experts. But to paraphrase a familiar expression about art: I may not know sound but I know what I like.

(Happy Easter)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


010- Blog number ten already. Wow, time flies. Speaking of time I thought I’d share something special today in celebration of this decablog. I’m going to reveal to you two secrets. One is about me personally and the other is about me professionally.

Personally you should know that I am in fact a very, very lazy person. I will try and find whatever shortcut I can to save time. I scour the earth for tips and tricks about every application I use and every piece of hardware I own. I like to save time wherever I can. I’ll cut corners on corners (without sacrificing quality mind you) just to save milliseconds. I’m trying to get some time back into my own hands so I can watch “Lost” or “Jon Stewart” in peace and then go to bed. Ahhh, bed. Is there anything better than bed? Bed is awesome.

Professionally I have one trick up my sleeve that saves me more time than anything else. This is THE trick that guarantees me the smoothest possible post process. It is THE trick that applies to any edit platform; Avid, FCP, Steenbeck, Movieola, whatever. This is THE trick that gets me to a successful cut that everyone is happy with (especially me) and gets me there fast. This is THE trick to remember if you’d don’t remember anything else. This technique governs everything I do in an edit suite and I never, ever skip it nor try and find a faster way around it. It is my first commandment.

What is this glorious bit of insight that I feel you cannot do without? It boils down to two simple words.

Watch everything.

That’s right. Whatever footage you get no matter how much it is, watch everything. No matter how much the producers and director’s are ordering you what takes to use. No matter how much the stuff sucks. No matter how much a chunk of footage is “obviously” a waste of time. No matter how much time constraint you’re under, stay up, drink lots of coffee and watch everything.

Why? Well, because it’s your job. But there are a multitude of sub-reasons so I’ll name my top three.

1) you probably weren’t there when it was shot so you have the unique perspective of knowing what you have to work with and not being biased by anything that happened on set. People come in with these dumb-ass biases in the edit suite like “I don’t like her -- she was bad actress” or “we rented a thousand-dollar an hour crane to get that shot so make sure you use it”. Walter Murch calls it “seeing outside of the frame”. The actress may seem perfectly fine to you and the crane shot irrelevant. So watch everything and see things other people have dismissed. Part of your job is to know what you know by way of the footage and nothing more - because that’s all the viewer will know too.

2) watching everything allows you to see beyond the script as well. Sure the director intended the scenes to go A, B, C. And maybe you have to do it that way to show him or her what they intended. But as lazy as I am “Command-D” is a fast way to duplicate an idea and mix it up a bit to try something new. Another part of your job is to find the gem or the alternate paths not ever considered. It is not to take orders, but to collaborate. You can’t do that by being blind to some of the footage. There isn’t a project, program, film or commercial that I have worked on that wasn’t somehow affected positively by something that was supposed to hit the cutting room floor. So watch everything and be a better editor for it.

3) the biggest reason to watch everything is to fix problems. Whenever anything comes up in post, any obstacle, you have to be the authority of what is possible and what is not within the confines of the footage. The footage is now locked in your brain; make sure it’s all there. Trust me, you can fix just about anything if you can see all the pieces on the editorial chess board. That is part of your job too. And your reward is the trust of your team.

However, if something isn’t working, if the cut isn’t good, if you doubt the path you’re on and you don’t know what to do it inevitably comes down to the fact you didn’t watch absolutely everything. If you don’t you’ll find yourself constantly going back into the footage again and again to see what you missed. Watch everything, do that first and save an incredible amount of time in the long-run.

Now, I’d tell you some other reasons but I’m tired and there’s a new episode of “Lost” I wanna see.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


009- What I was taught at a very, very young age still gets me compliments today. If I was a guest at someone’s home for dinner, say going over to my friend Goran’s house, when I was finished my meal I was taught to always take my dishes to the sink or dishwasher. Result? Goran’s mom thought I was a “good boy” and smiled a smile that made Goran want to retch. Thus I made sure to do it all the time. But I didn’t mind and quite frankly, it gets a gravy-smeared plate out of my face. So it helps everyone.

That brings me to how I handle my OMF and AAF files. If you don’t know what they are, they are…well…brilliant. An OMF allows you to send along audio or video files in a multiple layered format that matches your timeline. And each clip in your timeline within this export will have handles.

Why is this so important? Well, for audio it means that the audio mixer doesn’t have to spend time capturing each track separately and trying to figure out where clips begin & end. It saves having to do timeline charts that graphically show them where clips will appear. These two things mean it will save a lot of supervision on my part. Plus if the mixer needs just a bit more of a sound because I cut it too tight, they have those handles there that give them immense flexibility.

For video you can hand over well-organized uncompressed files for an online/conform or, in our case here at our shop, for colour correction. Each clip within the OMF/AAF is automatically broken into separate layers and our colourist doesn’t have to find edit points to notch her shots.

If you’re used to this always being there well you haven’t lived through the era of multiple edited rolls of 35mm audio magnetic stock painstakingly laid up in giant fully locked playback machine rooms that flowed through a mixing console. It also means you avoided having to do carefully charted and colour-coded timelines on long reams of paper. You are lucky indeed.

When Avid demoed OMFs at a 1994 Avid conference in Florida I attended I knew immediately that this was big. And as the years passed I was thrilled to see so many manufacturers adopt the standard. Saves so much time.

That’s assuming you do it right. You see, as the Media Composer got more and more complicated the OMF/AAF exports got more & more complicated. But in a lot of cases the hardware or software these files got shuttled to didn’t know how to handle these embellished files. Any dissolve effects in the audio? It would create separate dissolve files on lower tracks. Add an EQ or Audio suite plug in to a track? It is a guarantee the file gets all messed up. Use Fluidmotion to slow picture down or apply a Boris filter effect? That OMF/AAF file practically melts on the hard drive. The result is confusion for the application trying to import it and frustration for the professionals needing to use it. Best case scenario - errors on import. Worst case - complete failure to import.

So when I prep my files I create separate unique timelines for the exports. If it is for an audio mixer, for example, I only hand them a timeline with audio in it. Sounds obvious? Amazing how many editors export OMF/AAF files with both picture and audio to go to mix houses. Audio professionals scratch their heads and wonder why a 30second commercial has 5 gigs of audio attached!

But that’s not all. Any cross dissolves I do with an effect - I clean them off the timeline. In fact any effects at all are cleaned off. In video exports I take the time to mix down motion effects more complicated than an “interpolated” render. I make sure the export is only relevant picture- no titles or imported graphics, etc. {But I have found I can leave most resizing effects.} I always ensure my dialogue tracks are separate from sound effects and they, in turn, are separate from music. No jumbling them together. I replicate cross fades by using rubber-banding on multiple tracks.

Most importantly I consolidate the media being exported so the handles aren’t unnecessarily miles long with drive-choking file sizes.

Then I write a short note to the receiver about what they can expect and where to expect it. Plus I include any other notes that could help them like file type, frequency, how big the handles are, etc. and I note any strangeness like deliberate holes in the timeline that may make someone scratch their head.

I’ll do anything I can to make sure their process goes very smoothly so I don’t get dozens of emails and phone calls. But more than avoiding phone calls it is just plain polite, courteous & respectful. The result is that I have people tell me all the time how easy it was to use my files and that they never had an easy time with anyone else’s files. It always makes me feel good.

Okay, so now that I cleaned my plate…when’s dessert?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


008- I do a fair bit of dialogue editing for my cuts. And I usually take comfort that there are scores of professionals who take over when I’m done to properly clean up and sweeten the edits I put together in a mix session. But that doesn’t give me license to ignore the effect of a bad audio mix on my clients and even myself. Sound, to my way of thinking as a picture editor, is 50% of the experience. That’s right, 50%. So I spend a fair bit of time cleaning up audio while I am cutting.

“Why bother?” you ask. Well I have learned the hard way that I can’t assume that anyone who is watching my cut understands what is supposed to happen. I’ve had clients get confused about why the music is so loud, why the train sound wasn’t there, why a voice over wasn’t the right performer, etc.

All of that interferes with their ability to get lost in the cut. Or to use my favourite term: “The suspension of disbelief”. That is to say, when someone forgets who and where they are and immerses themselves into your story -it truly a magical phenomenon of the human species to do this. I look at watching movies as legal drug use and just as addictive. Getting them there (and you as well) is the best way of ensuring that they and you are judging your project fairly without distraction. (Hey buddy, turn off that cell phone while you’re at it!)

One of my regular habits is teeny, tiny 2 frame cross fades between dialogue edits. The Avid edits at 1/30th of a second increments (or 1/24, or 1/25 depending on what you are formatting) and because of this it is sometimes impossible to get around a dialogue edit without creating an audible click or pop. Let me rephrase, it WILL pop and often.

The effect of this clicking and popping is like someone sitting behind you while you are watching a film and constantly flicking your earlobe with their fingers. I find it hugely distracting and often annoying. But maybe you don’t.

Or maybe you do. Notice at top I said I have to clean up audio “while I am cutting”? Sometimes a dialogue edit that matches a picture edit point pops just a bit and makes it seem like the picture edit is too harsh or misplaced. Try a 2 frame cross fade. Magically the picture edit seems much better.

Still not working? Try the cross fade AND slide your picture edit point ahead of back by one second so the edit point isn’t in line with sound edit point. Blasphemous, I know, to change picture to favour sound. But I’ll bet that it is way better. And even if you don’t like the picture edit it should at least tell you if it is truly bad timing or awkward sound pops that are getting in your way.

The Avid makes the process of applying hundreds of these dead simple:
1) mark and in and out and select only your dialogue tracks.
2) make sure your timeline marker is over an edit point
3) add a 2 frame dissolve…but when the dialogue box appears choose two frames and apply from in to out and also choose to skip existing effects (so it doesn’t destroy previous work).
4) You probably don’t need to render them

But if you truly miss the pops, try breaking bubble wrap...it is much more fun.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


007- Over six million years ago, in a land before time, I was in high school. (And yes - I did graduate). I learned then and still know now the importance of good presentation. A slick cover and clean pages meant a better grade on my papers. Good foam core backers with clean titles meant a better score on my science fair project. “Presentation is paramount” is a mantra I created I repeat to anyone who will listen. Not a guarantee of a good grade, mind you, but it doesn’t hurt.

So when it comes to screening a cut, any cut, I’m amazed how often editors ignore the fundamentals of good presentation. And that can be as simple as a black screen. A black screen is a clean slate to the eye and a definitive “period” to the end of a cut. Yet editors and assistants of all walks fail to screen their work with black at the start and at the tail of a sequence. The result is an awkward freeze frame at the start and stop which only serves to jar the viewer and ruin the emotion you carefully sewed together.

Or perhaps, one might assume, every cut of any kind should fade up and fade down at either end? WRONG, I say to thee. WRONG! Sometimes a sharp cut in and out is just what this type of edit requires emotionally. And while you might argue that black isn’t or shouldn’t be a steadfast rule I would say that it IS a commonly shared experience …like a blink (thank you Walter Murch) and therefore a familiar place in the mind.

Now the Avid isn’t very black friendly. A timeline in the Avid is a limbo-like area of nothingness until you add something to it and a Media Composer doesn’t allow filler to be that something. And after the last something the timeline ends abruptly. You won’t hear me say too many good things about Media 100 systems, but their infinite & multiple timelines are something Avid should have stolen long ago

To get black at the start of a timeline you have to choose “add filler at start” under the Clip menu. I actually have this key-mapped to F13 (with a preference setting of 10 seconds) so I can hit it multiple times.

For the end I import a black clip (black with RGB values at 16 so the black levels don’t shift) and lay that in way down the line in my timeline. Now when I hit play I can get a definitive start and definitive end to my sequence. The viewer’s brain registers this subconsciously. It just “feels” better. And it makes it easier when posting videos online as well because my timeline marks will include a bit of this black area on export.

“But wait!” I hear you cry, “Doesn’t that mess with your duration count?”. Well…yes…but I always use an automatic workaround. You see, my sequences start at 09;59;40;00 and I always have 20 seconds of black before the start so the cut begins at 10 hour mark exactly. Now my sequence time code register tells me how long I am.

Now don’t ask me about the importance of good spelling on those high school papers. That’s a lesson I keep relearning with the title tool every day.