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, October 20, 2010


And now the twenty-second commandment.

Those who know me may be surprised to learn of my religious background. Or maybe they wouldn’t be given how much I call out to God asking why he hates me when a drive fails or the Avid locks up. The church was a big part of my upbringing. Back then I was pretty involved. My favourite thing to do was stand behind a lectern (podium, for the non-secular among you) in a church full of people and read from “the good book”. I’d practice for a fair while before mass and then in my most passionate voice I would read aloud attempting to capture the power of the bible.

But I was always handicapped. Lay-people (those not ordained) could not leave the lectern. They had to stand behind it, in one place, never deviating. So our oratory skill was confined, literally, to one square foot of real estate.

Well, any good speaker will tell you that the biggest way to keep people engaged was to never, ever use a podium. You see if someone moves around a stage human nature forces you to engage that person. Like a fly in a white room your eyes are sucked in to the one thing that actually moves in front of them. It’s much harder for you to get tired of the narration.

Now back to our mutual editing planet. I’m a big fan of static scenes. I like them for two reasons: one, I get to control how long a shot gets to be – not a cameraman with A.D.D. who insists on panning and zooming every-single-shot (you hear that camera people! Knock it off!). And the second reason is that if framed properly the scene can exude a sense of visual poetry that compliments the subject and doesn’t detract from it. Translation, it doesn’t NEED to move.

That’s all great in a perfect world. In a perfect world every shot is stunning; every scene in balance. But I don’t live in a perfect world. I live with the footage I have and sometimes the footage I have doesn’t motivate. Sometimes you’re trying to use the footage in a way that requires energy but, alas, the shot doesn’t have energy. Sometimes the footage lacks focus. So what do you do? You break free of the podium, that’s what.

I apply keyframes at the head and tail of a clip and scale in or out -- just a little. In “the biz” (god, I hate that expression) we call this a ‘creep’. Or, if you want to be cruel, a ‘Mickey Rooney’ (a little creep). A little creep (no more that a few percent) is just enough to add a teeny, weeny, tiny bit of visual interest to a static shot. It can magically transform a scene which can hold the viewers interest for a couple of seconds (at most) to scene that can hold the viewers attention almost indefinitely. Be careful not to overdo it. Like salt in the sauce or crazy glue on the broken mug - just a lil’-dab’l-do ya.

But maybe you don’t want to do a creep. Maybe you really feel your shot shouldn’t move but still lacks focus. Well, if it’s in HD try re-cropping the scene. Why do I do this? It’s probably best explained in one of my more smart-ass moments when a respected director of photography asked me how he could treat the footage so the editor wouldn’t reframe it. Without hesitation I replied, ‘Frame it right in the first place”. I was very proud of myself for that instant reply. But in truth the cameraperson doesn’t always know what the shot will be used for. No reason for you to suffer. Blow it up, slide it up, down, or side-to-side until you get the framing you like (take care it doesn’t get too soft). Then, if they ask, lie and tell them that’s how they shot it and it’s your favourite shot. How can they question their own brilliance?

The word of Fish.

Friday, July 23, 2010


021 - From time to time here on the program I like to address some reader mail that comes my way. Here’s one from Stephan. Stephan writes, “[Hey, Editing God]. What do you think of the Avid’s new smart tool?”

Well, first I’d like to say that it’s always great to get feedback (always better to get the positive kind). I love my fans especially you; the one reading this right now. Love you the most – I really, really mean it.

Smart tool, eh? Well Stephan, that’s a darn good question. However this is a TIPS and TRICKS blog so I don’t have to answer that one. Bye!

“What!” you say? You DEMAND an opinion?!? Well, it’s not like I have an opinion for everything, y’know. Wait a minute. In fact I DO! Okay…lemme try this one.

Avid’s new smart tool: on the surface it is a fundamental change to the long cherished way of handling media in the Avid timeline. It’s is always a dangerous thing to tamper with the universally understood mechanisms in any system (witness OSX changing command N to mean new-Window instead of new-Folder –wow, what anger Apple received over that one!). Despite this Avid bravely dove in and tried to fix a long-standing issue with dragging, trimming and rubberbanding. Namely the issue of too many freak’n mouse clicks to perform the operation.

Truth is I’m still getting used to it. And I will say that I find myself occasionally suppressing the need to punch something when the timeline is fighting my finger-memory. But I ask myself – what if it was this way from the very beginning? Would it still be annoying or would I have adapted to that and resisted any change to deviate? I have to admit it would be the latter. So I think the new smart tool is welcome addition.

Lest anyone think that I’d paid by Avid to kiss their royal behinds allow me to retort. The tool is very clever and well conceived. However, I think when implementing it they should have included an optional preference setting. There’s another example that comes to mind: Superbins. Personally I don’t like ‘em. And I have two huge/wide monitors with loads of real estate which I take up with multiple open bins on top of other open bins. So I don’t need Superbins. I don’t want Superbins. But if I had to edit on a laptop I think I’d gain a whole new appreciation for their existence. Avid wisely made them an OPTION. Like my clients I’m a big fan of options. So the Smart tool loses a star for not being an optional implementation (unless I missed a preference somewhere).

It also loses a ½ star for not allowing me to have settings I can quick-key. Imagine if I could hit shift-F4 and get the combination of the smart tool I want. Or being able to map that to a button. I’d really love to have that because right now I find myself CONSTANTLY turning the individual buttons on & off. Wasn’t the point to avoid that? Minus another ½ star for the fact that the Smart tool resets itself seemingly all the time. That annoys the crap out of me. And why does it have those icons? And why won’t they name an edit suite after me?!? And why don’t they make planes out of the same stuff that the black box is made out of!!! Wait, I think I lost track.

The overreaching point of today’s blog is --- a bunch of points. I do find issues with my Media Composer that I wish they would fix. I’m not a fan of any software to the point that I think its perfect the way it is. I like change. And I don’t use this platform to bitch about the Media Composer (much) but to hopefully share some of the things I’ve learned as an editor.

But I have been trying to think of a way that I could “suggest” a few alterations to the software and at the same time point a few fans of this blog toward an appropriate venue for my rants (of which this blog is not). So for next while, until I run out of rants, at the end of each blog I’ll include a link that points straight through the suggestions forum on the Avid site to latest suggestions for the Media Composer. I’d appreciate it if you’d weigh in and tell me if I’m right, wrong or (more than likely) misinformed. I figure the more voices the more likely the change…hopefully for the better.

Thank you Stephan and every other listener out there. Rock on. Fish-out.


Wish like a Fish: an explanation

Wish like a Fish: Effects- Part 1

Thursday, July 15, 2010


020 - Recently I took a short trip and on the plane I carried along my favourite drug to get me through my semi-mild fear of flying – my iPhone. In “Airplane Mode” I use it to watch movies. I don’t know about you but I find watching movies teleports me to another world where I swear the plane could be on fire and on rapid decent and I’d be more excited about the car chase in front of me.

And what was on the bill today? A movie I had wanted to see for a while but was never quite in the mood for at the video store: Sideways. Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church are a brilliant, fresh duo. I really loved the character study of these two. And Kevin Tent was phenomenal. I mean truly magnificent.

Who is Kevin Tent? (sigh) The editor of course! Duh!?! Kevin cut the movie. Or, to put it another way, Kevin dissolved the movie. Kevin and I think exactly along the same lines as to what dissolves are for.

Back in film school we were taught, “Dissolve: a transitionary device in film where two scenes blend, via opacity, from one to the next communicating to the viewer a change of time or place”. Well, like Robin Williams quoting a textbook definition of poetry in The Dead Poet’s Society I say to my film prof, “Excrement!”.

Yes, dissolves can be used that way. But frequently it’s due to a lack of imagination on the director’s part. In short, it fixes a time/place change problem that should have been solved in pre-production. When I was an assistant, I learned from my mentor, Andy, that dissolves are really a paintbrush. If carefully woven they are poetry in light leading the eye smoothly from one place to another while at the same time invoking a unique, emotional tone.

In Sideways Kevin almost always uses dissolves in artistically. There is the transition of Giamatti’s face to a beautiful sunset just when he’s happy for the first time in the movie. Or the dissolve between the actors walking away in close up to a wide shot with no passage of time at all. Or the multiple overlays of imagery while the fou
r characters enjoy wine and conversation at the dinner table. Look closely and you’ll see Kevin works very hard to ensure no face slams into another face, no recognizable form competes with another during the dissolve. Instead things, people, or places dissolve into a “pocket” or a non-cluttered area of the frame, smoothly leading the eye around the frame from point to point. Is time passing? Maybe. But that’s not what Kevin’s trying to do here. He’s carefully sewing the visuals together in a poetic dance.

Senior editors with premature gray, such as this blog writer, would refer to this last example from Sideways as “bi-packing”; the film optical term used to describe superimposing one image over another - often between dissolves. It’s an art form. If you want to see this in action for a few minutes solid watch the opening toy sequence in Rob Reiner’s often forgot film North. Toy trains dissolve seamlessly into hills, which pan over and dissolve perfectly with dolls. Cheers to you Robert Leighton.

That’s not to say things can’t be shaped into a director’s mind. There are some awesomely preconceived dissolves in Highlander along with a few funky but calculated wipes for good measure. In fact I find the measure of a good director is often when they don’t use dissolves. They know what I know - which is dissolves are not strictly speaking “needed”to craft the story.

And so with this, my 20th blog, I impart upon you the sage words of Andy, my mentor. “Fishy”, he’d say, “A good dissolve is a long dissolve.” Long, I learned was much more than two seconds. By making it long you’re forcing the brain to resolve one image going into the other – slowly. You’re trying to create poetry. And if it’s long and it’s not working you know you need to try something else.

Like maybe a cut.

Friday, July 9, 2010


019 - I rarely leave my chair. Other than the occasional request to supervise a colour correction session or an audio mix there’s isn’t much call for me to actually use my legs. This can result, if left untreated, in a chronic case of “editor’s butt”. Trust me, it ain’t pretty. I really should get out more to see other people at work. Watching them work demonstrates individual methodology (the good and the bad) and provides insight into how I can improve my own day-to-day workflow. And isn’t that the underlying theme of my blogs?

On one occasion a spot I worked on was being re-composited at a 3D animation studio in (on?) a system I had never seen before. The interface was akin to tearing open an Avid timeline, letting the clips spill out, in a seemly in a random fashion, over a large gray table and having thin strings connect them together in some kind of order that escaped me. I thought it was a stupid interface.

But as I watched the animator work I noticed he always had access to my original media, his effected clips, and his trials and errors and his final composite -all in the same project and all in the same “space”. So when I went back to the shop I looked at my timeline in a very different way.

Let me back up for a moment. Have you ever worked on a Media 100 circa 1997 to 2001? If you have you know my pain. After working on an Avid for 5 years I was forced to use this system exclusively for four consecutive years (or was it decades, I can’t tell). Other than one single independent graphics layer it was strictly A-B roll editing. Some editors rock to this. But if you use an Avid (or Final Cut, or Premiere) I’m guessing you agree that while it is a very fast way to put together a cut it is a tragically inept way to keep up with the demands placed on post facilities. Adding layers upon layers of titles and graphics and tweak them with relative ease is a must today.

But there’s more to it than adding graphics . You might decide a single layer will only be your dialogue edit. The next layer only your b-roll. And more b-roll above that on the next. It can save a fair bit of trimming and sliding knowing your dialogue isn’t pushing or pulling everything else around the cut. It’s not appropriate for every project but when it is it is blindingly fast. So when we bought a brand new edit suite to work with in our brand new company, Avid it was (again). I swear to God I actually hugged the box the day I arrived.

But my experience with this animator and his system showed me that layers was offering me another amazing opportunity I never, ever considered- the ability to stack multiple versions of the same clips into the same timeline. Why on earth would I want to do this overly complicated thing? Well, since I frequently export material to be composited or colour corrected in After Effects, when it comes back it does so without any of the corresponding metadata that Avid needs to keep track of what it is and where it came from. And all the careful labeling in the world doesn’t allow me to see, in an instant, what I had done before.

So now, for my needs, the composited version of a clip is laid ON TOP of the original. And/or the colour corrected version of a clip is laid ON TOP of the original. When I hit Play all I see is the effected media but if I need to I can peek at the others. If I want to I can trim the original and export it for colour correction again. More importantly if I consolidate and backup this timeline the original rough-cut media and the final media are kept together. If a client needs changes I have everything I need to do them in one place. No messing with re-digitizing or re-importing. No sorting through older cuts to figure out what I did or backing up multiple timelines for safety.

Ten years ago this would have created a bloated media folder too large to handle, but today with cheap hard drive space a-plenty there’s really no reason not to. In short, I can have my cake and eat it too.

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.