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Assistant Editing: Lessons From the Trenches

June 25, 2015, 09:49 AM

https://www.aotg.com/assistant-editing-lessons-from-the-trenches/

Assistant Editing: 5 lessons from the (FRONTLINE) Trenches By: Eric P. Gulliver Background I’ve been an assistant editor in some capacity since 2008 and still have trouble explaining what it is that I do. I spend most of my time hibernating in dark edit bays, essentially. Depending on the day, I will ingest footage, organize it, edit it, and sometimes output it. Despite all the time spent in the dark, I can confirm that assistant editors are not vampires, but rather puzzle solvers in the various offline to online edit realms. We are part translator, part organizer and part editor. We speak in code mostly, between sequences, subclips and tech specs. Our roles are not set in stone, and they oscillate much like the systems and formats with which we work. And despite the fluctuating nature of our post­production world, there are workflow truths that seem to show up regardless. If there is one thing i’ve learned in post, it is that d​etails matter. About me In my latest stint as lead assistant editor for the flagship PBS series FRONTLINE, we had a little over a week to ingest, package, color­correct, mix, screen, and create deliverables. It was a bit bonkers. It was a crash course in file organization, platform profiles and time management. We didn’t have time to fuss over technical issues, we just needed the footage to work. And that’s where I came in. Our post­production ecosystem ensured hour long documentaries were f i n i s h e d f o r b r o a d c a s t ​e v e r y s i n g l e w e e k . ​ A f t e r 6 5 b r o a d c a s t h o u r c r e d i t s , I ’ d l i k e t o t h i n k I learned something over the past several years other folks working in the post world will appreciate. Although our shop is AVID centric, many of these lessons can translate across NLE platforms. Pick your poison, but pay attention to underlying currents. Why? Because I want to help you!​If I had a nickel for every time I saw a poor frame rate transfer or interlace jaggies in theaters or on television, I’d have a bigger wallet. And I go to A LOT of screenings. For whatever reason, problems that are easy to fix are left in deliverables, and then shown to audiences. I can barely watch broadcast TV these days due to these cringe inducing oversights. I’m thinking that with a couple small tweaks to shortcuts and additions to workflow, editors and producers alike can exact the details of their deliverables. This will save time and money and allow more room for creativity in the process. Hopefully these five lessons can make post­production seem more logical and less esoteric. I promise you, assistant editors are doing something in those dark edit bays, and I hope outlining our processes will make it easier for makers and editors alike to concentrate on the details. Lessons Lesson 1 ­ Learn to do it yourself As an assistant editor, the buck stops with you regarding the answer to technical questions. (i.e., What was the original frame rate? Where did this file come from?, Has this been converted? Have was it brought in?) Create steps to keep track of and access this knowledge by making a path to problem solving. Try not to leave solutions to well­known problems to a co­worker. Try to figure it out first before asking for help. Once a solution is found, write it down in a “best practices” document. Having all solutions to all problems in post is impossible, but having a path to solve problems is the much easier task. Lesson 2 ­ Always go back to the source When entering the online process, always try to return to the source file in it’s original, native format. This way you can ensure ingest, conversions, and changes are made correctly. When you have the final master files, place them in folders and label the FINDER LEVEL with as much information as possible to minimize jumping between platforms and having to get info on files once opened. Write the Camera type/codec, resolution, and frame rate in the folder name itself because this can increase your speed. Lesson 3 ­ Post is a SHARED environment Trust me, even when you don’t think it will ever be, it will! Try to label the FINDER LEVEL and PROJECT LEVEL in such a way that people who aren’t you can understand. With this in mind, organize your FINDER LEVEL and PROJECT LEVEL with a default structure, perhaps. Put too much information rather than too little. Take the focus off “what to call things” by having a default folder structure tree that you can copy + paste. For example, our AVID PROJECT LEVEL had these eight folders always: 1) Sequences 2) Footage 3) Audio 4) Graphics 5) Captions 6) Press & Promotion 7) Digital 8) Work Bins The trick here is that NOT having to concentrate on “what to call things” frees time and concentration. Lesson 4 ­ Less talk = more work If you can devise methods of communication that don’t require calls, chats, or talking, then it is all the better. One way of doing this is to make the workspaces communicate for themselves: Making one bin with only one sequence in it, or having personalized colors for sequences when handing off. That way it is less about what it is called, and more about colors and placement. In our environment, there is a broadcast bin at the top of the root level of every project with an “!” before that title that has one green sequence in it at all times. All team members know this is the most up­to date online, broadcast ready sequence. We never have to ask “which sequence is the most recent?” Lesson 5 ­ Learn to RETRACE your steps Chances are once you near your delivery date, someone will want to “see what the source looked like,” or confirm conversion processes. Learn to visually confirm your steps and see your work for fast re­tracing. One way to do this is to MAKE BIN VIEWS based on customizable data that your content calls for (e.g., Source File and Source Path column view to confirm the location of files WITHIN your editing platform). Also, you can learn the questions your client/producer asks most, and make a BIN VIEW of this. (i.e., is that high res?, Was the source interlaced or progressive?, What color space was this imported at? What is the native raster of the source file?)

The content is five assistant editing lessons I learned over the years that can benefit those in documentary post-production. It is a best practices document for post-production workflow. The piece is entitled Assistant Editing: 5 Lessons from the (FRONTLINE) Trenches and it includes a 500 word written article and a 12 page PDF that visually expands the five main lessons. The PDF is a visual representation made up of individual image files that can be separated for inclusion within web text.

#editing#post production#assistant editing#frontline#wgbh
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