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.

Friday, June 18, 2010


018 - I generally do my own work. By that I mean I don’t finish (online) other editor’s edits (offline). I made a conscious decision years ago not to focus on the finish but instead the process of telling the story. And so I learned to make damn sure that my projects were meticulously organized because, at the time, I had to hand them off to an online editor who was charged with assembling them. Since online was at ten times my rates for offline it was critical that my edit decision lists (EDLs) were as clear and easy to understand as possible. Eventually finishing/online was thrust upon me by a) a marketplace that could not support separate facilities and b) technology that could efficiently combine offline & online in one place.

In a rare alignment of the planets the facility where I worked and which had hired me to do offline editing, was given a contract to finish a television series for air. My employer felt that my efforts could be diverted to strictly online this series. But they didn’t count on the fact that the editor who was cutting it was as organized as kindergarten fire drill. So when his list called for tapes whose names were unclear everything bogged down. Unclear is too kind. A complete clusterf**k is a more apt description. (Hey, it’s not profanity. It’s a technical film and video term. Look it up.)

Duplicate tape numbers, inconsistent nomenclature, and mislabelling all combined with missing tapes (!) made for quite a puzzle. Sometimes I’d spend hours re-digitizing only to see that there were tapes that were wrong but because it had the same time code the result was very a dada-esque picture and sound edit. And because it was a series I couldn’t permanently unravel the tape naming with the editor because several episodes were already in the queue behind the one I was doing (renaming the tapes at that stage would only add fuel to the fire). It was a nightmare unmatchable by Freddie Krueger.

My favourite moment was when the system asked me to insert tape “386”. Nothing else- just “386”. There wasn’t anything even resembling a 386. Not a 385 or 387. The highest number was #24 out of 50 tapes (don’t ask). It was late and the editor was unavailable and I was just about to throw something heavy when my focus shifted I noticed one single gray tape amongst the few dozen black tapes. It happened to be Maxell stock whose only identifying label was the product number “386”. Grrrrrrrrrrr.

When I completed that nightmare days later I loaded the EDL for episode two and immediately found a sea of clips in the timeline all called “untitled” because he couldn’t be bothered to label them -- I cracked. I burst into the hall, grabbed my brand new assistant by the ear (figuratively), dragged him into the suite, pointed to each and everything this editor had done wrong and bellowed, “You see all this? You SEE it?!? If you EVER do anything like this…EVER… I will hunt you down and kill you. I don’t care if you’re not even working for me. You - dead. Painfully. Got it?”

He got it.

This week’s blog could rest on the importance of proper and consistent labeling or giving everything a clear title. All true. But I’m going to add to it a very helpful tip. Whenever you label a tape, graphic, audio file, or whatever you digitize or import give the first 10 characters or less the same unique name – a name only related to the specific project. For instance if you’re doing a documentary about roses you might label your first tape “Rose 001”. (Note the three digits in the tape number to allow for 999 possible tapes which will sort in proper numeric order). Audio mix or graphic files you’ve been handed might be labelled “June 18th mix” or “opening titles”. So add the name “Rose” to the front of it before you import it. Now, when you’re wrestling with hundreds of tapes and dozens of files, you’re safely organized.

But something else very helpful happens. Notice when you’re organizing media on your hard drives the first 10 characters of the MXF files relate to the tape name? If you call all your tapes “footage” or “tape” you’re begging for confusion later. But your unique ”Rose” tapes will stand out against your other project’s “Daisy” tape names, for example. Even if you do what our shop does - which is to barcode each and every tape (yes, we rock) - you should still put a project name in front. And this labelling ripples to the media file names which in turn will allow you to cull, move or delete media with the assurance that you’re playing with the right stuff.

After all, a rose, by some other name, would be hard to find.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


017 - I was at an industry award show and a client of ours grabbed me by the arm and dragged me over to the other side of the room. “Doug” she said to the other man, “This is Fish. Fish co-owns Filet Post production…. and they have THE BEST food”.

“Yes”, I said and added, “we are pretty good at that editing and animation stuff too”.

Sigh. It’s true, we do have the best food…for a post house. Why on earth should th
at be so? Well when I was an assistant I learned a valuable lesson that I repeat so often it should be on my business card: ‘”A good cup of coffee can make or break a screening”.

You see people, being people, come in from the cold or heat after a crappy day, morning or night and then plunk themselves down in your chair, bark “okay, play this thing” and glare at the screen looking for anything they can to blame for their crappy lives. The absolute worst thing you can do is let them watch anything you worked so hard on. You have to wind them down. Way down.

The story goes that the only thing that saved “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” was Graham Chapman’s announcement of “drinks are on me” during the first rushes screening. I believe it’s more important to feed the crew well than pay them well. At least on the day of the shoot.

A comfortable chair, polite conversation, a fridge full of an assorted drinks (including alcohol corporate if culture permits), a plate of snacks, and freshly brewed, organically grown, fair-trade coffee (with choice of milk, cream and soy): those are my minimums. It’s amazing what that kind of treatment can do to quell the storms the client has brought in with them. And here’s a tip. Never, ever ask them first. They’ll always be polite and say no. Have it ready. Even if they won’t drink it or eat it, they’ll always appreciate it. And let’s be honest, they can have a crappy day and it’s kind of nice to help them out of it.

I like to think about the time that 10 people came over to watch a video in the middle of preparing for a huge event of which our video work was a significant component. They arrived tired, angry and frustrated. But man did that sandwich tray and cold beer turn their frowns upside-down. Or there’s the time that a new client of mine ran back to her office shouting “Oh my God. I was just at Fish’s and he had candy!” It always helps restore a proper mood.

I have to be clear: it’s not a bribe. I don’t bribe. The work still has to be fabulous. No amount of French pastry will make up for sloppy product. But I can’t stand it when it’s unfairly judged and I’ll do everything in my power to ensure their attitude matches our work.

Since opening our company we’ve taken it one step further - any dubs that leave out place are accompanied by a small packet of candy. It’s astounding how people will fight over three cents worth of candy. And equally surprising how peeved they are if we forget to put one in the package!

That’s my blog for today. Now before you post a comment, would you like a cookie?

Friday, June 4, 2010


016- Hey, it’s been a while but it's good to be back. In part I was gone because I’ve been busy. Actually, more accurately, I’ve been really busy. But I confess that a small part of me hasn’t been back for other more psychological reasons. You see I’ve received so many positive comments from people who enjoy reading the blogs but aren’t editors I was rather paralyzed as to how to get started. Do I rant about something more general that appeals to a broader group of people? Or do I provide insight about a tip or two relating specifically to the Media Composer and risk alienating a bunch of non-editing (a.k.a human) people right away?

Getting started is truly the hardest part of any exercise – including editing. Everything can seem so daunting. And the more you delay the bigger the mountain to climb. You can be frozen by the fear of choosing the wrong path. So I make it easier on myself right away by pre-determining multiple paths. I write down all the ideas of how to proceed. Today I have chosen to talk about, of all things, “choices” and to share a tip about, of all things, “preferences”. You see? Now I’ve started.

There’s an old editor’s joke that asks “how many editors does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer, “I could change it but you won’t like it”. I guess we all suffer from it - the sureness that they are wrong and that you know better before even trying. Yet when I’m editing, the first cut I do is the one that is closest to the director’s, agency’s, client’s vision of where the story should go. No matter how much I think they are absolutely, 100% dead wrong (and my ego always thinks they are wrong if they don’t agree with me) I go with that path first. This is important for three reasons. (Memorize these and you’re career will go a lot smoother.)

Reason#1: they’re not always wrong. Admit it, it’s true. So many times I’ve finished with their path, look back and slapped my head, “ohhhh, that’s why they did it that way”. But I couldn’t see it until I tried. So do it their way first. Spend the energy. Do it right. Do it well. Get it done. You’ll be glad you did.

Reason#2: If you don’t try it their way and show them that it doesn’t work then they’ll never know whether they would have preferred it your way because they have nothing to compare it to. Trust me when I say they won’t trust you. Show them their way, then show them yours. They’ll always appreciate the effort and the decision for them (and you) is that much clearer.

Reason#3: People like choices. Not too many choices, mind you. But they like to choose from more than one. Bananas, cars, vacation destinations - people want options. Give them more than one choice and they’ll make a decision and feel comforted that they had a part in the process. Give them only one choice and they’ll find faults in the one being shown…forcing you to make changes just ‘because.” Don’t go there. It’s a dark, evil place that breeds bitterness and resentment. When I’m forced to go to the “make changes just because” place I spend my time in the basement thinking about my job while polishing my shotgun. Not good.

So, after I do the “wrong” version I go onto the “right” version, and then others as well. I personally believe I’m paid to explore and so I do…I explore a great deal. Then, when I feel I have done enough I am satisfied that I’ve contributed to the creative process and that I have made my mark and earned my keep.

This is one of the things I like best about the Avid. There is an incredible amount of control over your work environment. From A to Z - the Avid is loaded with choices via preferences. And I like having a lot of preferences to choose from.

People often forget about Site settings. Site settings is the often empty folder than pops up when you choose it from the “Special” pull-down menu in the Media Composer. And it is special. It’s special because a Site setting allows you to mark your favourite preference in such a way that it travels from project to project. In other words, whatever you put in there will be the dominant setting when you create a new project.

This is very helpful because many Avid settings either reset in new projects or simply carry over from the last project you use. For instance "Media creation” preferences often default to whatever Avid thinks is best. But you probably prefer something totally different. Another one is the timeline timecode start in the General preference pane (which for reasons mentioned in another blog I prefer to start as a Drop-frame 09;59;40;00 start point) .

Whatever you like, whichever settings you feel the need to always start up with, just drag your favourite preference from the project window into the Site settings window and voila! – your next new project will have that already in place.

See you next week. I mean it this time.