High Noon in the Editors' Corral
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"It's tough out here in the Wild West. And for the longest time Sheriff Avid has been keeping this Hollywood backwater safe for those brave editing townspeople. And now, fresh from NAB, it seems our Old Friend Premiere has strapped on some new guns spoiling for a showdown with the big gun. Yeah, Kid, Final Cut rode into town a few years back, all puffed up and ready for some action, but it seems the Kid's kinda backed down from the fight...or has he?"
That was the description of a panel of editors who, last week, took "a good hard look down the barrel of today's editing systems." Organized and moderated by editor Herb Dow A.C.E. on behalf of the Hollywood Post Alliance Sales Career Resource Group, the panel featured a group of editors who used some or all of the afore-mentioned editing products.
Lining up at the O.K. Corral were editor Brandon Balin, Digital Media & Technology Specialist Scott Carrey, editor Billy Fox, A.C.E., Intelligent Assistance President Philip Hodgetts, Adobe Senior Business Development Manager Pro Video and Film Mike Kanfer, and Avid Post Application Specialist Michael Krulik.
Lining up at the O.K. Corral as moderator Herb Dow A.C.E., tries to keep hot tempers cool under the Western skies.
Balin uses Avid Media Composer 6 but has also used Apple Final Cut Pro. "At one point, I was NLE agnostic," he admits, reporting that for the last three shows he cut, he used FCP 7. Carrey is a fan of Adobe Premiere Pro 6. "It's fantastic for short form content such as commercials and promos," he said. Fox, who edits feature films, said he is primarily a FCP editor but also uses Avid. Hodgetts touted his main tool: FCPX (to which Carrey replied that he calls FCPX "iMovie Pro").
Since nearly all editors have used more than one NLE in their career, these panelists were well positioned to discuss the pros and cons of the various tools they've used. "Media Composer 6 give me full control of convergence for stereo material," said Balin. "I can also upload material to YouTube 3D."
Fox said he picks his NLE based on the project. "I look at each one separately, but I gravitate a bit more to FCP," he said. "Both have advantages. Soundtrack Pro and Motion in FCP 7 is what makes me lean that direction."
Hodgetts reported that he is using FCPX for an upcoming reality TV show. "By nature I'm an early adopter," he said. "It was in beta and I had a commercial on -air in Australia the week it came to market. But I wouldn't want to cut a feature film with it."
Moderator Dow asked each of the editors to pick the three features they couldn't do without. Carrey mentioned that Adobe has a "scale to frame size" feature that enables editors. "You can push a button to get back to the original file," he said. "I also like the way it handles metadata and the hover strut function with huge thumbnails and the way it handles metadata, and 'hover scrubbing' with huge thumbnails."
In FCP 7, Fox liked attributes, which he called "a remarkable tool that is one of the biggest frustrations with Avid. "This allows you to copy whatever you've done in picture or sound and paste it on another piece of media," he explained. Hodgetts listed FCPX's Smart Collections, Magnetic Timeline and range-based keywords as "the three I'd like to keep."
Balin said he'd always "had the fantasy of a floating adaptive LUT, and he looks forward to the Academy's ACES being built into everything from cameras to displays. "There's still a disconnect between post and production," said Carrey. "A lot of education and communication needs to happen." Avid's Krulik reported that the only raw file they work within inside is RED's but that Avid is looking at ARRI Raw.
Fox gave a thumbs-down to how FCP 7 handles dailies. "It's so bad that I just take the mixed track, not the separate eight mics," he said. "I would like the ability to have those tracks. FCPX lets us have as many tracks as there are. This deals with those multiple tracks that get thrown at you, but you don't want it making the timeline."
Kanfer referred back to the ability in FCPX to easily turn things on and off. "You can do that in Premiere," he said. "But it's four steps, not one. We're looking at that."
Dow asked the panelists about the impact of visual effects on the edit process, with regard to the NLEs they use. Balin noted that the already huge quantity of visual effects facing editors has doubled with 3D. "When Mike [Kanfer] and I worked at Digital Domain, 100 visual effects shots was a lot," he recalled. "In terms of workflow, Adobe After Effects is great for compositing and many things that need to get done. Even when I worked with FCP, I'd use Automatic Duck to go back and forth in order to use After Effects."
Fox spoke about the large number of effects even in a non-VFX movie. "That's one of my frustrations," he said. "My assistant spend so much time putting shots back in. There's no reason why an NLE can't make that totally automatic." Hodgetts reported that XMiL Tools has a plug-in for that with Final Cut Pro. "But certainly Apple has done nothing to further this," he said. "I like the fact there is a place for third party providers because I am one."
Dow asked about the editors' experiences with high-resolution digital cameras. Balin found the Sony F65 impressive, and Carrey, who also finds the F65 interesting, noted that he was an early adopter and big fan of the RED. "But the ARRI Alexa blows the RED away in reproduction of color space," he said. "It'll be interesting to see how RED continues to compete."
Film is still Fox's preferred "high resolution camera." "The workflow is so much better than digital," he noted. "That said, film is dead. I've done a couple of RED and ARRI Alexa projects. The big part is transcoding media to get it into your house. I've had problems with RED and none with Alexa, which I like somewhat better. But I don't really care. The bigger thing is the facility to pick to work with and putting the timecode in the right place."
"We are like the parent of many children" says Adobe's Kanfer. "In the right hands, output of all these cameras can look good. There's been majestic use of RED 5K output with David Fincher's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Some top DPs who said they'd never shoot digital have gone to ARRI Alexa and say only good things about it. Workflow issues will be dealt with. It's only been five years or so, and film had 100 years to develop a standardized workflow."
Dow asked about on-set dailies and how that takes the facility out of the picture for that portion of the workflow. How is that affecting editors? "I set up the pipeline so I'm fortunate," said Carrey. "If something messes up, I fix it. We are inheriting a lot of stuff. Moving upstream is key if you want to survive as a business. We've never had pre-post, but you can't just hang the negative. You do have to think backwards. At the same time, things continue to evolve. By the time you deliver a project, there are two new formats to deliver to."
Balin said that today's dailies can be a lot faster. "On my last project, we used the RED DIT station to get dailies in one hour," he said. "Sometimes there's no time anyway to send it to the facility."
Fox doesn't deal with digital dailies. "Yet there is nothing the production complains about more and the DPs hate them," he said. "But it's getting better. Hodgetts, whose upcoming reality TV show will be shot from a solar-powered boat said he isn't going to bother with dailies.
"Who handles dailies has changed," added Kanfer. "You still need the same level of expertise. They still have to be done correctly." Referring to the PIC system for dailies review and approval, he believes that "everyone will eventually work that way where we're all more in synch. "It's all so new and yet it blows me away to see how far we've come and how quickly," he said.
Summing it up, Hodgetts echoed the feelings of many when he said, referring to the NLE choices, "I don't think there's a bad tool in the market."
The conversation that started off as a High Noon showdown ended up more like a campfire kumbaya, but the reasons were clear. Everyone is in the same boat, trying to get to the same destination. The issue is less about individual tools and more about a continually evolving overall workflow. Standardization - by ACES most likely - is the likely end result of so much rapid evolution. But, for the foreseeable future, everyone, and especially those in post, are forced to stay as flexible as possible in bringing in a project from production to deliverables.