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Large Project Editing Workflow

I'd like to say I have been so busy catching up on work that I have not had a chance to write new posts. This is partially true.

Partially, I took a week to visit my folks in insanely sunny Florida, helped my wife through some medical troubles (no, for the last time, I did not film it) and have in fact been pretty busy at work.

Oh, and I discovered I know a lot of people on Facebook.

But back to the important topic of workflow.

As described in excrutiating detail in previous posts, I make the most of to do lists, post-it notes, scraps of paper, e-mails to myself, Excel spreadsheets and various other attempts at self-organization.

I recently completed a project which was an excellent exercise in organization. I will describe it in generic terms, but give some specific example of learning points.

The Documentary/Promo/Movie Trailer to Promote a particular career

Ok, I guess that wasn't too generic. It is an interesting project.

We pitched a casual documentary style approach, using inspirational interview clips and relevant b-roll, good music, and little to no narration.

Once we had cleared the various PR hurdles, we got three great days of shooting at several medical schools and hospitals, including a c-section. I developed a list of questions, and while conducting each 30 minute interview came up with follow-up questions designed to get people to talk about what they do best(which is not talk about what they do best. What they do best is do what they do best.) It is my job as producer to draw out performances, even and especially unscripted candid interviews. We also tried some possibly hokey segments, some of which will never see the light of day!

The next step was to digitize (capture) all of the raw footage, 4 66 minute DVCPRO tapes and about 15 mini-DVCAM tapes. We shot primarily with 2 V1U cameras in DVCAM mode (incidentally, the two cameras did not match as I'd hoped they would) and shot a few interviews with the DVCPRO, although we could have left this at home and saved gas.

After 3 days of digitizing, while doing other work of course, the next phase begins - logging. Rather than logging the tapes before capturing (digitizing) I capture and then log.

Step 1

Take each interview subject and isolate unedited on its own sequence. In some cases we shot an interview with two V1U cameras, with the lenses practically touching, one wide one tighter, to facilitate editorial or time based edits without jump cuts or dissolves. This is a good way to simply edit out long pauses, ums, ahs, coughs, or retakes. But one can also compress a long thought into a short one. Since the V1U has no timecode output, we try to have each interview subject clap their hands, which is an easy way to sync things up. We generally had a lav going into only one camera, so you find the good audio, fill left or fill right, and turn off the track from the other camera.


Step 2

With each person on his or her own sequence (timeline) I next chop up the timeline into topics. In other words, I edit out the sound of me asking a question, so I am left with the person answering the question, with black spaces. I like to do things methodically, so I do this for every sequence, before actually viewing the material in real time.

Before proceeding to the next step, just for some psychological reason, I like to know how much material I actual have to now go through. So I ripple delete the spaces on all the timelines, so I can write a time next to each person's name. My yellow lined paper now looks like this:

Harrison Fjord - 22:00

Barbara Edyen - 7:00

Bruce Willjyis - 4:15 (boring)

Peter Jaquson - 11:15

you get the idea - I can now tell myself, "Self, you have 1hr 33 minutes of interviews to watch."

Not so bad.

Step 3

With everything chopped up, I now go back to actually listen to the material and make notes. On yellow lined paper, I write the person's name and then a few words for each unedited chunk of interview:

Steven Shmeeldurg

1 - why he got into his career - money of course!

2 - met his wife on a project

3 - When he knew this was the career for him - he could produce mediocre work and still get rich

4 - etc

5 - so forth

6 - so on


After this step, I now have a few sheets of lined paper. Now to select my, er, selects. I do this on paper, placing a check mark next to the clips I want to use. I go through each timeline, and just eyeballing the clip number, move the selects to a higher track. With this done for every speaker, I then copy and paste the selects to a new timeline, and watch it all in order. I save this timeline as edit 1.

Now I save as edit 2, and start weeding out the, er, weeds? My goal is as short as possible to get the message across. The goal was stated as between 3 and 20 minutes, whatever works. I wrote on my yellow paper:

Edit 1 - 23:00

Edit 2 - 17:00

Edit 3 - 14:00

As the amount of material is reduced it becomes increasingly more difficult to make cuts. I got to about edit 5 and maybe 7 minutes of really good gems.


The page down - spacebar to play - delete to delete keys makes things a bit easier in this process, although you need to use the mouse anyway.

Now for about three weeks (3 months) I had been brainstorming ideas on how to actually cut this together. The brainstorming started before we actually shot anything, but not knowing if we had a chance to get the kind of material I was envisioning. The plan came together - somebody call Howlin' Mad Murdoch.

With my shortest-humanly-possible-without-losing-some-nice-moments version in front of me, I came up with an editing format I was happy with, and realized I need to add some more time in the form of b-roll, SOT and some more interview segments from a second set of questions. Time rose back to about 15 minutes. Some efficient use of the three camera setup for one SOT sequence and some thoughtful cutting of the interview segments got me down to about 11 minutes. I next added a title sequence and conclusion and hit 12 minutes and change.

I watched this edit (7) another time or two and tweaked some edits on each pass.

Now to add the music and hopefully make it more engaging.

stack of discs 

I recently added a bunch of new CDs to my Firstcom contract, so I grabbed a few of the new titles, and found some contemporary sounding music. I decided there should be music under the whole program, including the interviews and SOT segments. Since there is no 12 minute track in the Firstcom library (I know, Sonicfire Pro could do it) I decided to use different tracks based upon the mood of the music and the subject matter being discussed (someone call Steven Shmeeldurg, maybe he can use that technique!). 


Some of the Firstcom discs include just the audio CD, so you need to rip the music. Others include a DVD-ROM of AIF files, including both the full mix and the separate instrument tracks. The separate tracks makes things more fun and you have more control over the mood. This also helps transition from one piece of music to another - you can bring in the drums or piano before the previous song fades out - hopefully this makes it less jarring. But kids these days are used to quick changes, right?

With the music added, I spent a few more hours perfecting the mix, and then time to render out to FLV for web viewing. Oh wait, have to color correct the multiple cameras, right. Premiere has numerous color correction tools, and it took a little while to find the right combination or 3-way color correction, Proc Amp, HSL, Levels and Equalize (not all of those and not the same cobination on all clips). Not bad for a first pass, we can tweak it on the final edit. Remember this is for the firtst edit.

I posted it online before heading home for the evening (incidentally, all of the above took about 4 days of focus.)

Once at home, I watched the full video over my DSL - always a good idea to check out your work via a home computer setup. Although we have cable modem attached to our network at the office, the home DSL experience is a good test.

It looked pretty good, so I e-mailed the client a link.

The next day most of the feedback was very good, a few comments about music choices and some of the interview clips, but these things are very easy to fix. I was also asked for a script. I quickly made a two page Word doc listing the times and brief summary of each sound bite, just so people could refer to this while reviewing. Once we lock things down for the final, a full transcript will be needed for approval. It is a good idea to have a transcriptionist in your rolodex (what's a rolodex?) for these purposes.

I should add that during the final day of editing, I was getting the inexplicable "Sorry, a serious error has occurred, Premiere needs to close." error, usually when doing anything in Premiere involving doing anything with any function. Not good when you are almost done with a project. On a few occasions I lost about 10 minutes of work. It seemed the faster I worked, the less frequent were my manual saves, and Premiere's auto saves were set to 20 minutes.

After a few frustrating incidents, I set auto save to 1 minute intervals - a little annoying, but even with frequent crashes I did not lose too much work. I dealt with this hassle so I could finish the project.

Once the video was online for client viewing, we determined a few things about my computer. First, someone had installed AOL instant messenger without permission - whether or not this was the culprit, it wasn't helping. Next we tested the RAM and that checked out. So next was a reinstall of all Adobe products. This seems to have fixed the problem, although I have still had a few Serious Error crashes, but nothing like before. I'm sure we will figure out the problem eventually.

Thanks for reading.




Posted by: Mike Cohen on Aug 5, 2008 at 6:03:08 pmComments (1) workflow, premiere, editing, documentary, interviews

I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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