This is an on-going post-production diary I’m keeping while I cut my first feature film, The Impersonators
, an indie comedy.
I just realized it's been two months since I last updated about The Impersonators
The reason is because there hasn't been much to say. Or so I thought. You see, everything has been going really smoothly. Avid has been mostly cooperating. The scenes have been coming together well. Everything is organized, in place, and running well.
I delivered the first rough cut of the whole film a few weeks ago. Some decisions have been made for pickup shoots that won't be happening until the spring. Needless to say, I have a lot of time to work with the editors cut and start figuring out the sound design, as it seems I'll be doing much of the sound editing as well. But not the final mix. I know my limits.
There's still a lot of work to be done. It IS a rough cut, and all of the scenes need to be individually assessed. Some need to be rebuilt. But technically speaking, I've had absolutely no issues with Avid beyond the initial hiccup of the media not wanting to ingest properly.
I didn't think I had much to say about this since everything went better than expected, but here's a list of the stuff I did that I liked and didn't like about my first feature rough cut.
- I'm glad I watched every take and took notes. I only occasionally went back into the notes to check on what I wanted, but it helped me to remember my thoughts anyway. However, I wish I had done a lined script instead of just listing notes. It would have helped me a lot with grabbing the proper takes.
- I wish I had an assistant to sync audio. I was my own assistant. I was a damn fine assistant, too!
- Note cards on a wall were a definite plus. This is a pretty linear film, but I still needed the reference point of a note card occasionally to figure out where I was within the narrative.
- Choosing Avid was the right way to go. After the setup, I had no real issues and I can be reasonably confident that the media is being managed properly. Stuff isn't going to disappear offline.
- Splitting the sequences in Avid by scene was a good call for me. It's not always one scene at a time, as some scenes are really short inserts, but I did split up everything by scenes and acts and it's been helpful for focusing on one thing at a time. After I make more changes, I'm going to start to combine things into longer sequences to be sure scenes are flowing properly into each other. Then eventually, everything will be assembled into one timeline.
- Screenlight has been really nice for previews. It's quick and secure and it plays on anything. That's been a relief.
So it seems I'll be working with this cut until the spring when we add and alter more scenes. I'm sure I'll have a lot to say when I start doing sound effects, because audio is a dark art that very few understand. I'm glad the director is willing to take the time necessary to plan and shoot what's needed to tell the story in the best way possible. I'm also glad I've been given such freedom to assemble the film without someone hanging over my shoulder. I appreciate collaborative filmmakers. Too many directors are unwilling to hand over their footage to a dedicated editor.
Anyway, we're still on track to complete the film in 2013. But films take forever, man!
This is an on-going post-production diary I'm keeping while I cut my first feature film, The Impersonators, an indie comedy.
To my delight, this year has been filled with many opportunities to get advice and tips on editing from some of the top editors in the world. Between NAB
, and the weekly Twitter chat #postchat
, I've been up to my ears in wisdom on cutting film and television.
Of course, in central Indiana I'm pretty well saturated in corporate video work, so I was getting all these amazing pieces of advice thinking "Well, I guess I'll write it down so maybe someday when I edit a film, it might be useful."
Well crap, here I am.
And when I last left off, I was embracing the idea of failing
and learning along the way, all the while wondering if Avid would even cooperate with me. I'm happy to report that once I figured out how to get my footage into Media Composer, it's been pretty smooth since then. I was a little shaky at first, re-acclimating to Avid. I've used FCP7 all day (most days) for the better part of the last 4 years, and I've not had my hands on an Avid for more than some small things. I spent an hour reviewing Class on Demand's Avid for FCP Users to re-adjust my thinking, and then I was doing fine.
My rough cut is at about 25 minutes run time right now and I've hit no major issues in the edit. Everything is organized. It's a nice little sanctuary. I've had a few fairly complex scenes already, but my mellow has not been harshed yet thanks to some thoughtful words from the elder editors among us.
Sage Advice #1: "@kyl33t Cut talky scenes first with camera on each person talking so that everyone gets their say. Then go through and overlap etc #postchat" - John Lee (@godbolt), via #postchat September 5, 2012
One of the most complex scenes I've ever cut happened last weekend. It takes place in a conference room and consists of 10 different characters having a fast-paced discussion. There were a lot of takes, 6 or 7 different setups, and some other challenges that I won't get into just yet. I needed to find and accentuate the best performances, find the best reactions, and figure out the rhythm of a scene with so many people who were just sitting around talking.
A few weeks ago, #postchat's special guest was John Lee
, who was involved with the editorial of amazing films such as The Matrix, The Prestige, and Inception. John was kind enough to answer our many questions for the hour, and he told me to give every character their say, then worry about overlapping and everything else. Simple, but I've not cut a lot of dialogue before. When I cut shorts in the past I kind of did this but tended to jump into the refinement, which wasn't that big of a deal since it was short. A long scene? Many scenes? That could be difficult.
So I decided to make an effort to take a segmented approach: get it in the timeline, then find the pacing and overlapping and trims, add it reactions, etc. A little at a time.
Since I had already sorted everything and marked my favorite takes, I was just pulling from what I knew was the best. And then I had the scene cut far earlier than I expected. Does it still need work? Hell yes. Is it going to change drastically? Yep. But was I uncharacteristically happy with a rough cut? Yes I was.
This advice is so simple, yet so helpful. Especially to someone who cuts mostly unscripted and works in a much different way trying to assemble pieces. Narrative is a whole different thing. I love it.
Sage Advice #2: "Always be solving! Black holes in a time-line need to be solved. Leaving them unattended weakens your story. #cutting" - Steve Audette
At Post Production World at NAB, I spent some time in Steve Audette's
documentary sessions. Much of my day job consists of editing things that aren't scripted, so it's been pretty damn helpful already. But even though I'm cutting a narrative piece and not a documentary, I've been keeping this in the back of my mind when I want to just leave a part to figure out later: don't leave black holes in your timeline.
I know as I continue the rough cut that I'm leaving areas where the cut is weak or needs more thought - that's just the nature of a rough. However, as I'm going through, I'm not leaving anything completely undone. I feel like if I leave problems until the end, they'll all gang up on me to frustrate me. But most of all, if something truly isn't working in the edit, it's a big early indication that something might not be working overall, and that seems like it will radiate down stream in the story.
By not leaving any big problems to solve later and at least offering a contingency for issues, I'm making sure that I have SOME solution to offer. Plus, I don't want to spring 5 different unsolvable problems upon the director after I finish my first pass.
(And this advice happens to be a tweet because I can't find a direct quote from the sessions, but it was basically the same idea.)
Sage Advice #3: "The first cut is like a fat woman falling down the stairs" - Jeffrey Ford ACE at Editfest NY, 2012
Ah yes, now the title of the blog post makes sense. Here's the biggest thing with the rough cut to me: it's going to suck. I mean, it might not be the worst thing ever (I hope it isn't). I was even pretty happy with the first cut of that scene I mentioned. But there are other scenes that pretty much just suck. And when I watch the first cut again later after picture lock, I'm going to think "holy crap, that sucked!"
The hardest part with a rough cut is knowing that it's a rough cut and not trying too hard to make it perfect on the first pass. It's going to make a better movie if you work through it and have a little patience with yourself (but not too much patience, we do have deadlines, hurry up, jeez!) The rough is rough, but it's assembled. When it's all together, you can see the story emerging, and the issues arising. It's such an important part of the process, but it's also one that can be frustrating as hell. I just want to see it perfect!
I think if you make peace with your rough early on, it'll be a happier cut because you won't be reflecting your frustration onto it. It will benefit from my knowledge of the scenes on either side of it - because those are often the scenes that determine if it works. I've tried hard to keep that in the back of my mind.
And sometimes the fat lady needs a light shove in the right direction, and I'm perfectly willing to do that.
(Jeffrey Ford is a super cool guy. One of the most chilled out editors I've ever met.)
BONUS: "HULK THANK NETWORK GUY FOR TODAYS WORDS OF WISDOM:COMEDY IS FUCKING HARD IN AN EDIT BAY. SAD BY GUY WHO SPENT 12 MINUTES IN EDIT BAY." - @AvidEditor_Hulk
I've cut comedy shorts before, and horror shorts and other types of shorts. Comedy is the most difficult to cut, I think. You can ruin a joke with a bad cut. You can save an iffy joke with a good cut. The timing of the editing becomes another voice in the film. Developing my sense of comedic timing as it pertains to this film has been interesting, and trying to get a handle for maintaining a humorous tone with a good pace during a much longer duration has been a great challenge so far.
So far, so good. I've benefited greatly from the advice of those around me and I'm grateful for a community of people who share things so eloquently.
And just for fun, I'll throw in the teaser again. Just because it's suddenly hit another wave of popularity and will surely be hitting 11,000 views today!
This is an on-going post-production diary I'm keeping while I cut my first feature, The Impersonators, an indie comedy.
Before the failure, a success: the first teaser trailer was released a couple days ago:
And now the rest.
As I moved through the motions of being my own assistant, I hit my first point of utter frustration. Not even a clip in the bin yet and hair was threatening to be pulled out. I wasn't exactly punching walls, but it was irritating me exponentially.
For the purpose of hopefully offering someone some insight on this, I'll remind you I'm working with Avid Media Composer 6.
Avid's error messages are scary, and I've seen a lot of them now. My issues seem to be well documented on forums but with no actual solutions, which is maddening. Some things work for people, but not for others. There's no consistency like with most issues I research. I'm documenting my experience for the next person that has to do this, so maybe they'll come to the understanding that it isn't something that is entirely THEIR fault, necessarily.
The production was shot on hacked Panasonic GH2 cameras. It's a pretty common thing to do these days. I have folders of AVCHD media arranged on my external drive (.mts files if you're newer to this or possibly looking for a solution to your own issues.) I've worked with AVCHD before so I knew of the potential pitfalls, but I've always been fine when using the Log and Transfer tool in FCP7. This was my first adventure into AVCHD in Avid Media Composer, so of course it has to be with clips that may not be entirely standard as far as codecs go.
Here's what happened. After the project was created, I'd link to the files via Avid Media Access (AMA) and they'd show up in my bin. My first issue occurred when simply trying to play them in the source window. They'd play for a second, then I'd get an error to the effect of "ASpringbuffer". Then it would stop responding and I'd have to force quit.
I tried again, going right to consolidate/transcode without trying to play back the files through AMA. I set up the transcode to DNxHD and let it go on a batch of maybe 10 files. The status bar would hang for a while, then beach ball of death, then an "upstream pipe" error.
At first, I figured it was because I was using a little USB 2 drive just to test out a couple clips while my new g-tech drive was being shipped. But this remained consistent after I was hooked up to the 7200rpm 2TB drive via eSata (maybe I should try this with Firewire 800 just to rule out eSata being weird?) At this point, forum posts I've seen mentioning this error have people speculating that it's either the hard drive unable to keep up with Avid writing files, or it's the GH2 hack affecting the audio side of things on the clips, making Avid unhappy. I tried changing some settings to make Avid happy with the audio and nothing changed. The most frustrating thing about this is that on the forum posts, sometimes these clips work totally fine for people. The original poster will share a clip, and subsequent repliers will be able to AMA and transcode it. Then the next person in the thread will get the same upstream pipe error. Then someone else will change a setting and it'll work, while the next person will change the same setting and it won't work. Nothing online has a definitive answer.
I sent a tiny clip to two trusted Avid editor friends to see what would happen on their system. Same thing. Asked a few more, including some helpful COW people. No clue.
So now I've pretty much narrowed it down to either being a software or a hardware issue. YES, I know, I'm so helpful.
My next thought was to say "eff it" to AMA and try to just import the clips and let Avid take a century to transcode them that way. So I tried that with ten files from another folder within the drive. At first, it seemed like it was working. Then after one clip, an upstream pipe error.
Well, ok then.
So at this point, I had no easy way to get these clips into MC. I knew they were fine because Premiere was importing and playing them back relatively fine, if a bit choppy at times though to be fair they are massive. I didn't really push Premiere to do anything beyond just importing, but I'll give it credit that it actually worked. I decided to see if FCP7's Log and Transfer tool would like them and opened that up. (As a side note, one or two of the card volumes wouldn't mount in there because the person wrangling the media was messing around with the card structure. One of my folders is JUST mts files without the metadata. What a pain. Camera people: DON'T DO THAT.) So I mounted a volume and transferred three clips, transcoding them to ProRes 422. It was fast and it took the files, and they looked good and played back great.
Then I had a moment where it was 1 AM and FCP7 was about to seduce me into cutting in there. It was just so familiar. "Come here, have a cuddle."
No, I really need the extra practice in Avid, and FCP will forsake me later for sure anyway. As I make OS updates, it gets worse and worse. Premiere is an option, but like I said, I'd rather go with Avid for my own sake. I took the ProRes clip that FCP made and transcoded it to DNxHD, and it fast imported into Avid. I briefly considered doing this for every clip - renaming them by scene and take right there. It wouldn't matter since I'm doing all the finishing within my Avid, more or less, no concerns about relinking or sharing. But among other reasons to not do this, it seemed like a LOT of extra time spent transcoding things twice. And a lot of messing around with disk space allocation.
I should throw in an aside here that it was after midnight and I posted my frustrations on Twitter and instantly had four people giving me their opinions or advice, or at least trying to troubleshoot. That's awesome. I love you all.
Anyway, my next move was to obtain Clip Wrap and try that out. I used it to transcode a file to DNxHD. It worked and fast imported into Avid as expected, played back great. Yipee. The only issue is I have 12 folders of media that I need to transcode, and they don't have unique filenames (meaning, in Card 1 there's a 001.mts, and Card 2 there's a 001.mts) so if I loaded all of these into Clip Wrap, I figured there'd be some funkiness where it's re-writing, overwriting, or just crashing when it hits those files. There's no way to batch them and I wanted to let it run overnight. And I didn't want to rename the source files.
So instead of transcoding in Clip Wrap, I simply re-wrapped a couple of folders worth of files since that takes just a couple minutes. Out of curiosity, I tried to AMA link to those files (which didn't work). Figures. So I opened up Mpeg Streamclip and set up a batch list to transcode 2 folders of files. In the batch list, you can have files being sent to different places, unlike in Clip Wrap where everything has the same destination folder. Plus I pretty much trust Mpeg Streamclip with my life anyway, so it seemed like a safe bet to let it run overnight without error.
The transcode takes for-freaking-ever as you'd expect with all this media, but it worked. I then took those and am currently fast importing into Avid, which also takes for-freaking-ever but not in the same way. They should totally not call that fast import because it makes me expect it to be faster. Maybe "easy import"? "Slow and steady import?" Anyway, they are all importing correctly, mxf files being created, everything plays back fine and looks good. The transcoding and fast importing time so far has exceeded 20 hours. It'll probably wind up closer to 30. I absolutely see why people are taking Premiere more seriously. That's a lot of downtime for your system JUST to get the media in the NLE. But I'm assuming I'll make back this time later in by not having to troubleshoot Premiere. If this was something I needed to turn around fast, I would have to use Premiere, no doubt. I also see the benefit of something like the KiPro, recording natively on set.
But ya know, if anything else goes wrong with this, I'll have to bail and go to FCP7. I'm willing to troubleshoot Avid for a while - that's a part of the learning experience. But when it gets past a certain point, it's time wasted.
So for my workflow, this will work. But what if I needed to have an edit that can be relinked and moved and shared among facilities? What would be the solution? I'm not really sure, and I'd love to know. I really think it has to do with the codec not being perfectly standard. There's just one little thing in there that's making Avid sour. At first, I thought it was a disk speed issue. Maybe it's a combination. But really, I think it's the fact the files are just a little different. Regardless, this has been really educational already. And I have the feeling my permanent tension headache will subside soon, as I tried editing a few clips into the timeline as a test and everything suddenly was familiar again.
Another side note. The teaser trailer I posted in this blog was cut in FCP7. I knew exactly what scenes and takes I needed, so I was able to go into Log and Transfer and quickly grab my handful of media and go to work. While editing this teaser, Log and Transfer actually crashed FCP 28 times over not that many hours worth of editing. So Log and Transfer really doesn't like these clips either. Even if I were in FCP7 I'd still have hours of transcoding via Mpeg Streamclip, just to ProRes. But no importing into FCP. However, much less robust media management.
When I was getting ready to start this project, I asked around for advice and tips on setting things up or exploring the depths of Avid. One editor friend gave me the best insight so far. Paraphrased: Embrace failure, because every time you screw up now is a time you won't screw up in the future.
Anyway, now that I've got that sorted out, I can finally start to sync and cut. More opportunities for failure lie in my reach!
Post officially began the day before the production wrapped, which also means my sleep schedule has officially switched from iffy to erratic. Perhaps the toughest thing about having a creative side project for me is that I tend to work best on these things very late at night. That doesn't really mesh well with a day job you have to get up in the 5AM hour, but sleep is for the weak. That being said, prying yourself away so that everything else in life doesn't suffer is easier said that done.
As I said in the first post, I chose Avid MC6 to cut this for a number of reasons, one of which is so that I can gain the same level of fluency I have in FCP7. Honestly, it's irritating when people tell me that Avid and FCP are "basically the same." That's just not true. Sure, editing is editing, but when you can't remember which button to hit to make the thingy move to the other thingy, there's nothing more frustrating. Creative flow is killed. Not to mention the way Avid handles media is a lot different. It's just a different mindset from start to finish, and you have to be careful or you could really mess things up.
Earlier this year, I started experimenting with remapping my FCP7 keyboard to include more Avid-y shortcuts (and some additional rearrangements I picked up from Scott Simmons
). I had a hard time at first. When I got certified in FCP6, I had to memorize the default shortcuts, and those became the shortcuts I used on a daily basis. For better or for worse, I have a crazy muscle memory for these shortcuts. But I like working the "Avid way", so I switched my keyboard configuration.
I failed at this hard. It was too much. I switched back to my happy FCP7 defaults within hours.
I shared my failure with my friend and fellow editor Meaghan
over brunch after Editfest
. Among a plethora of great advice about a number of things, she suggested changing only a few keys each week to transition to a more effective layout.
Duh. It seems so simple. So I did just that. And guess what? It worked. I realized this last week when I opened up Premiere CS6. I don't use Premiere a whole lot, but I set it to the FCP7 default keyboard earlier this year when I upgraded from CS4. I was crippled! Success!
So basically, I've got mostly Avid shortcuts in FCP7, mostly FCP7 shortcuts in Premiere, and uh…Avid shortcuts in Avid with a few FCP7 holdovers. This is all very strange, and you better believe I carry every configuration with me or have it stored in my Dropbox for when I use another editing system. At this point I could probably adapt from one default to another pretty easily (except Premiere's original configuration which is weird) but it just bugs me when I can't work at maximum speed.
After nearly 4 years of using FCP7 on a daily basis for my full-time job, it's been hard to break my habits. Like learning to walk again. It's frustrating because you know you can and you've done it all before, you just need time and persistence and practice to get back up to speed. It's a long process of learning to walk again.
Anyway, keyboard shortcuts aside, I'm still acclimating back to the Avid way of life. I've been here before, but not on this scale. I've been learning boatloads about DNxHD, trying to sift through piles upon piles of opinions on the best way to handle media. I've been watching every each take and cross-referencing the script supervisor notes to skip over useless ones. The notes have been so accurate that my review has been super fast. In my notebook, I've been making notes on usable takes - which ones made me laugh, if there are reactions within shots that might be usable in other contexts, things like that. This week, I'll finish up with the assistant editor tasks and dig into a teaser trailer for the film. I'm getting really really
excited about cutting this film. There are so many opportunities to apply what I've learned from top editors over the last year. The film was DP'd by David Brewer
, and it looks amazing. There are some great comedic performances that are about to emerge. I can't wait to start putting scenes together. My day job edits have been piling on more than ever, so I've been spending more hours in my day staring at an NLE than anything else. Figures, feast or famine.
One thing I did outside of organization within the software is a notecard storyboard. I'm a really visual person (obviously) and I've always heard of editors doing this so I figured I'd give it a try. I was already referring to it before I'd finished with the dailies. It's definitely going to be a really helpful tool. Because I'm also a list-checker-offer, I plan on sticking a colored post-it on each scene when I finish cutting it, among other color coding. I love color coding. It will be motivational.
Now that I've talked all this about Avid, people that follow me on Twitter will know that I've been having massive issues getting this footage into the Avid at all. I believe I have a workaround - a crappy, long-winded one, but still - but I'll save that whole debacle for the next blog so I don't jinx myself.
Here's one for the baby book: I'll be cutting my first feature film this fall. The Impersonators
, directed by Joshua Hull, started shooting today in the central Indiana area. I attended the last full table read and production meeting last night, and this is definitely going to be an interesting film to edit. The Impersonators is about a team of superhero impersonators who normally find themselves rented out for birthday parties or other recreational activities. Their whole team is booked to spend time in a small town bringing up the morale with their presence. Soon enough, they find themselves in a real superhero situation, and hilarity ensues. It's got a pretty large cast and stars comedian Josh Arnold. The audience is definitely the comic book movie lover - there are a lot of jabs and self-referential pokes in the script. It's also quite crude. I love it.
This will be the largest project I've ever cut on Avid Media Composer, and well, the largest project I've ever cut at all. The tone and what I'm guessing the cutting style of the film will be really matches closely to the kinds of film aesthetics I personally enjoy, which is exciting. The production will be shot on two GH2's with a bit on the AF100, so I've spent some time checking out the workflow and pitfalls of the footage.
I'm also on the post team for Kate Chaplin's feature film Ingenue
. I'm not sure what my final role will end up being, but I'm providing editorial support, color grading, VFX, and an opening title sequence for the film. Ingenue has a bit of buzz around it, which is exciting. My friend Katie Toomey
is editing the film, which is pretty cool because it will be HER first feature. It'll be interesting to go through the whole experience of editing for long form as she does as well.
I know a lot of editors all over the place have a desire to cut a narrative feature and don't ever have the opportunity, so it's pretty crazy that I have the opportunity to be doing work on TWO in the Indianapolis area. I was originally slated to co-edit a horror feature this fall, but that project fell apart in a matter of days. I'm glad to have this film to work on - it's suits my style, it's not so crazy that I'll need help, and the filmmakers have a great background. Lots of great stuff to chew on as an editor, too.
I'll be chronicling my experience editing my first feature in this blog series, documenting the successes and inevitable failures that will ensue. I'll probably also be asking for help occasionally too, so hopefully one of my dozens of readers may oblige.
So, to bring the whole thing up to speed until now, over the last month, I've been slowly getting ready to take this film on. I spoke with the director to get some idea about how post would go and set up the expectations, and we had a great conversation about the tone of the film. I did some refreshing in Avid, and some research since the last time I spent hours at a time in MC was not very recent. I edit in FCP7 all day at work and I can't switch to Avid there, so I'm going to have a really split personality by the time this film is locked. I really don't want to cut this in FCP7 for a number of reasons. I'm also in the process of re-arranging my edit cave to make it more habitable since I'll be in there a lot. It kind of feels like nesting.
We'll have a teaser available really soon after wrapping the film, long before post is even close to done. I'm not sure how often I'll be on set for the next week, which I think is good, keeping separation. I work better when I don't have any idea of what's happened during the shoot. I'm expecting to be working on the color grading and titling for this one too, so there will be plenty to do and talk about in this blog. Both The Impersonators and Ingenue are following a similar post timeline, so I guess I'll be spending another fall season mostly indoors (the way I like it.)
I'll be picking up the first batch of footage on Monday and I believe I'll start transcoding to DNxHD36 for the offline (unless for some reason that's a dumb idea), then start the logging process. Happily, there is a script supervisor on set every day who happens to be a familiar face that I trust.
So, a little more edit cave nesting tomorrow, then it begins.