Assistant Editors Are Unnecessary

December 6, 2009

I was laid off yesterday.

Boss: “Soooo Matt, things are going to start winding down here pretty quickly”.
I nodded in agreeance with a slight smile and attentive look on my face.
Boss: “Oh, ok then”.

It’s not that I enjoy getting fired, but I understand why. The boss wants to make money too. Now I have all the time in the world to plan my next move. I feel the same excitement and fear that I felt the day I left college. The same emotions I battled with when I quit my full-time job. I’m freelance!

So I left work and drove to my future mother-in-law’s house to pick up my fiance. As the two of us drove back to our North Hollywood home:

Me: “I have bad news…”
Nancy: “Your job’s over?”
Me: “Yes, but I’m excited. I’m going to start a blog.”

I could see the look on her face. She looks to me to make good financial decisions. If I don’t, her and our children will suffer. She sat next to me in the car waiting for my explanation.

Me: “I look at post-production supervisors and that’s the job I want one day. A good post-super should be able to do everyone’s job on the team, and should be able to answer any question when it comes to saving time and money on a production.”

“I’m going to start a blog and become an expert at motion picture workflows.” She sat quietly next to me, contemplating my thoughts.

————————————

Before my job ended, I was introduced to the XDCAM PDW-F70. The first day that I walked through the door the deck was setup nicely beside a personal computer ready for digitizing. Down the hall in another bay the tech geeks were hooking up a DVD burner for outputs.

Boss: “We’re getting 11 tapes in tonight. I need you to digitize them here, and then burn DVD dubs of each tape down the hall.”
Me: “Got it.”

As soon as the tech geeks were done, I went down the hall to marvel at their setup for 2 seconds. I then unhooked the DVD burner and carried it back to my bay.

Over the next 6 weeks I digitized and dubbed 60+ tapes from one bay instead of two. I had connected the burner to the video and audio outputs from Avid, so as soon as I started digitizing, I would hit record on the burner. When a tape was done, so was my dub. I would then take the dub, make 5 copies in a stack burner, and give them to the post-coordinator. I created and labeled over 300 DVDs for the project!

Three days after my job began, the first editor started working… in the bay where the DVD burner was initially. What!? The workflow that I was initially handed would have been fubar after just 3 days?! I couldn’t burn DVDs from the Avid if there’s an editor working on the system. The producers also started coming in, and were using the DVDs that I was making as their means of viewing the footage. Not a horrible way to view the footage, fairly cheap and efficient, but later they requested:

Producers: “Can we view quicktimes instead? We hate popping in and scrolling through all these DVDs”
Boss & Me: “That would take a lot of time exporting from the Avid. We’d have to spend more money to make that happen.”
Producers: “Nevermind then.”

Time went by and all was well. The project went smoothly in almost all aspects. The team was made up of experienced post professionals, and we had a workflow down that was efficient, and cheap. As an assistant editor I had a reasonable amount of free time, and spent the majority of it helping the two editors edit some segments. I also got to tinker with the XDCAM a bit too. It’s quite a cool format.

The first thing I learned was that you can put the deck into local mode and skip to the front of the disk. No need to rewind every tape. I also learned to pull up the thumbnail viewer and see how many clips were on each tape, and the duration of every clip. If a clip was only 2 or 3 seconds long, I could conveniently delete it so there wouldn’t be a problem while digitizing. Now we’re talking!

As the project was nearing an end, I realized Avid had a function in its file menu that hadn’t flipped the switch in my brain before. “Import XDCAM Proxy…”

“What does that do?”

I went scouring through the F70 manual and found a chapter on File Access Management (FAM). Supposedly, if I hooked a firewire cable from the deck to the computer, I could import all the files on the tape instead of digitizing. I immediately went into denial and started destroying everything within arms length.

“NO! Somebody would have told me! The tech geeks would have known! The post-supervisor! The other assistants in the building! The online supervisor! The machine room guys! The entire Home Entertainment staff!!  Somebody should have said, ‘STOP!! YOU CAN IMPORT INSTEAD OF DIGITIZING!!’

I went to Sony’s website, downloaded and installed a program called PDZ-1 which contained the driver the deck so desperately needed, connected the deck via firewire, and had desktop access to the machine like it was an external hard drive. Back in Avid I clicked “Import XDCAM Proxy…”, and stood back. The deck started to click and wiggle. Lights started shooting out from every crack. Progress bars went whizzing across the screen. A frog leaped out, tapped me on the nose with his magic wand and screamed “LIVE FOREVER!” Three minutes later, an hour of footage had been imported into the project.

I went over to the corner of my bay, squatted down, and proceeded to shit a brick.

The only thing left to solve was distributing copies of the media to the producers. Exporting wasn’t a very good option. Every clip that was imported had Mpeg-4 525 resolution. Avid wouldn’t let me export this resolution, not even as a quicktime reference. The only option was to either mixdown the footage to another resolution before exporting, or transcode all the clips. How about nooo, Scott.

What about the PDZ-1 software? Could the producers have used that? The answer was yes. If we had a hard drive for each producer, all the XDCAM clips could have been copied to an external drive along with the software. Or, if their laptops were hooked up to our network, then the files could have been centrally located on a single PC. They could then use the PDZ-1 software to scroll through and view all the media. The producers would have had the equivalent of their quicktime request.

————————————

To simplify, I was given 60 tapes to digitize for the project. Approximately 60 hours; or six 10 hour shifts. This could now be done in 60 * 3 minutes = 3 hours. I don’t consider copying files to a hard drive as a time consuming task. This can always be done in the background or overnight.

This experience was a great learning lesson. I should always research the advantages and disadvantages of new equipment before going too far with it. Also, the assistant editor’s job is quickly becoming more and more obsolete. On projects with only 1 or 2 editors, I can foresee the post-coordinator and assistant editor jobs merging into one position. I’ve also noticed that there are a lot of inefficiencies in post-production environments. Every technological advantage I can find in my job has the potential to save time and money.

I would make a great post-supervisor one day.

Without reservations,
-Matt Rittorno

If you have tapes to digitize, XDCAMs to import, or DVDs to burn, I’m available to work. Check out my services and contact info here.

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One Response to “Assistant Editors Are Unnecessary”

  1. editmentor said

    Good grief, man. How dare you use your brain?! 🙂

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