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, April 21, 2010


014- And now…my plan for world peace. Hear me out: I’m serious.

We can solve all the issues that cause friction between people if we all lobby the United Nations to ratify an agreement that obliges every person in the world to have to enlist in service for no fewer than three consecutive years. Generally, this would apply to every teenage boy or girl and would start sometime shortly after his or her eighteenth birthday. But the service I speak of is not the military. It’s retail. We should require, demand - coerce if necessary -every single youth to endure the agonizing, frustrating and infuriating ordeal of interacting with the general public. They can work behind a counter or over a phone line but they must be forced to deal with…well… people.

My early experience in retail impressed upon me the fact that 99% of the world is functionally brain-dead (a favourite expression of my father). They are stubborn, rude, and ignorant. And yet - tragically - equipped with their own credit card. And for six years of my life I had to sell them VCRs, televisions and film cameras. Needless to say I hated the entire experience. Lots of people who did not know what they were talking about would berate me about the products they bought. They never read the manual but blamed me for issues they frequently brought upon themselves. By a mysterious coincidence of numbers I found that 99% of the problems could be solved with one simple action. I’ll give you a hint: it’s in the title of this blog.

But the only thing scarier than realizing that 99% of the world was brain-dead was the thought that I, myself, might be one of them. And so I tread lightly and patiently. I actually think my experience in retail makes me a better person and, more importantly, a better customer. If we all went through that we might be just a little bit nicer to our fellow human beings.

Now recently I did something I do about once a year: I called tech-support. Yup, I called Avid and asked a question that, quite frankly, wasn’t super-critical to my day-to-day editing but was instead something rather small, random and intermittent (a tough thing to diagnose). I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say the question boiled down to “why is this doing this?”Not surprisingly, because it was not easily reproducible and didn’t appear on the help sites on-line they didn’t have a solution. But they did pull out their patented suggestion: “Have you tried recreating your user settings?” (You may be interested to know that this suggestion, the first one to leave the lips from anyone at tech support, replaced a decade long standard question from Avid tech: “Is Appletalk turned on?”. For the record, my problems were never related *$#%ing Appletalk.)

Back to my user settings. Replacing one’s user settings is no small task. The Media Composer, god-bless-it, is loaded with settings, buttons, palettes, and options hidden in all sorts of places. Asking to throw them out and try a new set (in this case, try it for a while to see if the problem returns) was rather irritating. It was not an easy hike. It was not as simple as changing the batteries. So I ignored their “stupid” advice and went back to work.

About a month later, having put up with this annoyance long enough, I decided to give Avid’s suggestion a whirl. But I tried to be smart about it and used a simple Mac solution. I used COMMAND-SHIFT-4! Translated this means I took select screen captures of areas around the Avid. I captured my timeline buttons, my composer window buttons, my general user settings, my keyboard map, and my fast-menu palette. Then, when I threw out my user settings forcing the Avid to start fresh I was able to refer to these clips. I could see what I had where and what settings I had carefully worked out over the years so I wouldn’t have to guess how I had them before. (In the Windows world there are free applications that will allow you to do the same thing. The names escape me now but it’s worth finding one for this exercise alone.)

After this two funny things happened: first was how much more I discovered about the Avid’s settings that had changed that I didn’t even notice had changed because I hadn’t created new settings in so long. I can import more than 60 frames of a still now? When did that happen? Oh, look! We can edit 3D content. Cool.
Another thing was how many other little annoyances weren’t there anymore. Lots of bugs simply went away. And the system was much snappier in performance. For example, slow audio scrubbing, which I had mistakenly attributed software issues, was gone and worked much more fluidly. Or an issue where the colour correction palette would span my two monitors awkwardly every time I opened it was no longer doing that. Awesome.

So it turned out I was being the stubborn idiot I swore not to be. But at least I wasn’t as dumb as the guy who brought in his exposed film in a clear ziplock bag to get developed. “But I took it out in a darkroom” he sputtered angrily. My manager look through the clear bag toward the customer’s angry eyes “Can you SEE me?” the manager asked sarcastically.

Wow, that customer was a ….customer.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


013- (It figures my thirteenth blog would be my first late one. Apologies to anyone keeping score. Kudos to whomever won the pool.)

Let’s raise a cheer for the glorious montage! Film’s answer to the collage. The editor’s answer when lacking a story. A client’s answer to shoving in as much as they can in a tiny space with reckless regard to taste, pace or style. Montages: God, I hate ‘em.

But that’s not to say I’m not good at them. I am. Or at least I must be given the number of times people ask me to do them. “Y’know what we’d like, Fish? A montage. You should do one of ‘your’ montages”.

Sigh. They’re not mine. I didn’t invent the blasted thing. If I did I would have killed myself by now from the shame.

In my world, the commercial & corporate world, a montage solves a very important problem. How do you get warring & squabbling divisions, groups, parties, organizations to all agree on what should go into a video or commercial? Well, you do it with a montage, that’s how! I’ll give you an example.

I have a client that has four major divisions to its organization. They frequently come together to do a video or a commercial promoting all four pieces. Now I don’t envy the agencies set to this task. It’s like herding cats. Just getting them to agree on a logo design is daunting enough. Then four collections of footage are dumped at my doorstep. Each division wants to be fairly and evenly represented. (Actually, that’s giving them too much credit. Each wants to be represented MORE than the other. But I digress.)

I do NOT edit mathematically - but montages are the closest I ever come to it. “So here’s a shot from your group, and shot from yours, and then a shot from yours and… then yours…and back we go again.” It’s not that simple, of course. I’m still motivated my music and pace. Visually I may be compelled to put a few shots back to back from the same place to better tell a visual story (for lack of a better expression). But I’d better make up for that hoarding by ignoring that division for the next few shots. Crazy? Yup. But I manage to make something people like and keep the peace between them. Then, at the end of the day, I reach for a nice bottle of wine to drown the memory.

But how do I keep track of all that stuff? Well, the Avid Media Composer makes it easy. I colour code my clips (colour with a ‘u’, since I’m living and working here in Canada). Colour coding material according to each region allows me to instantly see in my timeline what came from where and how often. It makes the delicate balance of montages a sane and swift exercise.

If you’ve read my blogs you know that I’m far too anal retentive to stop there. Let’s channel Harry Chapin for a moment: “There are so many colors in the raaa -ain-bow, and I use every one”. So true, Harry.

No matter what the project, I consistently colour my music clips blue, my sound effects orange and my voice-overs yellow. If I need to differentiate indoors from outdoor, types of camera formats, locations or subjects I burn through my digital crayons before I’ve cut a single frame. It takes a small investment of time up front but man does it keep my head screwed on tight later. When 8 tracks of audio and 6 tracks of complex video span twenty-two minutes of content knowing what’s what makes for fast and confident modifications to my cut.

If you’ve edited for any amount of time in a non-linear fashion, you’ve probably been aware that with a timeline you gain a geographic memory where you can actually look at an area and know what a clip is without having to listen or watch it. And labeling clips with colours makes that even easier.

Lest we forget the bright fire engine red clips that scream “MEDIA OFFLINE”. Or the urine-yellow clips warning of mixed media resolutions. Even the slight shade differences between video and audio tracks make for subtle hints as to what you are moving where. Now leap across to your other monitor where you can label the background of bins so you can easily isolate your cuts bin from a footage bin with a glance rather than searching for names.

In the end, one might describe my project space as rather “like a rainbow”.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


012- I envy women. Besides the natural, glorious gifts bestowed upon them by God that I do so appreciate, they get to wear purses without public ridicule. Oh I’ve tried the side-saddles, tote-bags and satchels. But I’m afraid they just don’t suit me. I look as odd as a shoe salesman in a kimono. “Hey old man, who you tryin’ to kid?” I can hear people think. And while very, very comfortable with my sexuality, I’m not brave enough to have a devil-may care attitude about a full-blown “screw you and your opinions about me” purse.

And yet I carry around so much “stuff” everywhere I go. My iPhone - which until last fall was functionally divided between a cell phone and an iPod touch. My keys for a multitude of destinations – home, office, parents, gate, security lockers, etc.. And an overstuffed wallet - filled with receipts, credit cards, business cards (for myself and my business partner), and a lottery ticket (my only business exit strategy). All that and spare change too.

In the winter I carry around a jacket filled with these items and more. When others pick it up they inevitably say, “Whoa! That’s coat is so freak’n heavy”. And it is, very heavy. In the summer? I pound items into my pockets. This only results in creating tumour-like appendages on my already well-defined pear physique. I tried shedding clothing to make up for the weight difference but I lost a lot of clients that way. A lot of staff too.

However, in my digital world I carry a purse without a second thought and it suits me fine. It’s my “editor’s toolbox” folder and I stuff in it all those things that I use all the time so I know where to find them.

What do I put in there? Way more than I can fit in any purse, I assure you.

• a tiff file of “black” at 16 RGB (see Blog #007)
• a tiff file of “white” at 235 RGB if I want a quick & sloppy flash frame
• premade Photoshop template files with safe-title grids and layers of premade black and white solids; all in three sizes: 486, 720 and 1080 – handy for laying up titles and still imagery to the correct aspect ratio
• same as above but with Adobe Illustrator files – all ready-made
• SMPTE bars in three sizes: 486, 720 and 1080
• a two beep of my company logo
• an alpha channel of my company logo ready for slating my masters
• reference tone at -20dB
• a set of empty folders with the same nomenclature and structure as Avid media files so I can drop one into a drive and slide media into them with ease
• a Photoshop file with dozens of layers containing custom made vignettes I use to spice up some visuals and quickly mask off areas in the footage
• and, of course, my “Ingredients” empty sub-folder set (see Blog #001).

Now it’s true that I could make my own black, white or tone in the Avid. There are templates in Photoshop & Illustrator already made. But I find having frequently used files and media right there to drag, drop or ‘click open’ saves me a lot of unnecessary tedium and makes the creative process flow a lot more smoothly.

Also, so does wearing a thong. That does wonders for the imagination.

Editors note: I read and appreciate all your feedback I’ve been getting. Nice to know I’m not just amusing myself. Keep it coming! And I very much want to know what’s in your “purse”, if you have one. Thank you all.