School Is For the Birds

December 12, 2009

April 24th, 2009; Hollywood, CA

A 27 year old director flew from Sweden to California with a video game engine in his bag. Viktor Rammstein, employee of video game developer GRIN, was coming to Los Angeles to orchestrate a team of post-production talent in the creation of an animated web-series. Young and talented, the Swede had been handed a huge project fronted by Warner Digital and Machinima.com, Terminator Salvation: The Machinima Series.

While I sat at home, desperately in need of a job, my phone rang from a strange number.
“Hello?”
“Hey Matt, it’s Viktor. Remember me?”
“Dude what’s up!?” Viktor had come to Los Angeles six months earlier and wound up in my edit suite. We worked together to finish a promotional video for the Wanted video game.
“Matt, are you working?”
“No actually.”
“We need an editor for the new Terminator game. Are you interested?”
“Yes actually.”
“Come down for an interview tomorrow.”

Gower Street is the most beautiful street in Hollywood. Lined with studios, churches, and unforgettable views of the Hollywood sign, I drove along as I made my way to the Hollywood Production Center.

When I walked through the entrance, I immediately noticed this wasn’t a typical post-house. A marble interior housed a labyrinth of production suites, with plants and widescreen TVs in every corner. This was serious. I was greeted by the co-directors, Viktor and Dorian, and they walked me through the facility.

“Do you know Final Cut Pro?”
“Yes”
“Is $1750 per week ok?”
“Yes”
“Can you start tomorrow?”
“Yes”

With the usage of a single word, I landed the highest paying job of my career. I took off running for the car like a thief, jumped in, charted out the nearest Barnes & Nobles, and purchased “Final Cut Pro for Avid Editors”. I had only 18 hours to learn FCP!

———————————

After purchasing the book at the Grove, I drove a couple miles away and found a quiet street to pull over. As I sat in my car on that Thursday afternoon, with the windows down and blue skies surrounding, my mind went to work wrapping my head around the software I had been fearing so long to learn.

Final Cut is for skiiers and Avid is for snowboarders. A child can learn to ski, but it will take forever to be good. An Avid user starts out slow, but can become really good after the initial hurdles. FCP’s drag and drop mentality is intuitive, but slow. The use of tools inside the software is the exact same. A rough cut can be made quickly in FCP, but tweaking edits is painful.

As I read through the first couple chapters I grasped onto what I could, but I needed to apply the new knowledge before I could truly understand. I went back to the Grove, walked into the Mac store, and booted up FCP. I dodged the pesky employees and tinkered around for an hour before realizing I couldn’t fully learn the concepts in a public environment, so I pulled out my cell:

“Travis. I need to learn Final Cut by tomorrow. Can you help me?”
“Come over man.”

My good friend Travis and his fiance Veronica invited me into their Studio City home for an 8pm FCP session. He gave me a 30 minute demo of Final Cut and let me work for another half hour. I figured I was ready to go for the next day. As my welcome neared expiration I concluded my knowledge was good enough, so I said my adieu and headed home.

Laying in bed that night I finished 2/3’s of the book before losing focus and blacking out.

The next morning I dressed my finest and headed to work. I was quite excited about my new job! Of course I was excited, I was working for Warner Brothers on one of their biggest projects of the year, getting paid a sweet check. As I walked into the office I was greeted by the directors and introduced to my workstation. I was then told a rough cut was due at 3pm.

Panic mode hit. Flames engulfed the room. A chicken ran down the hall proclaiming the end of the world. I booted up FCP and tried remembering my new skills. Dorian watched me fumble from behind and quickly noticed my weakness.

“You haven’t used Final Cut before.”
“…not much, no.”
“That sucks.”

Noon hit me in the face and both directors knew I was incompetent. I couldn’t trim and didn’t know the shortcuts. It must have been painful to watch me because I sucked. They decided to sit with me to speed up the process.

“Add a dissolve there.”
I’d never done that before.
“Ummm… one second”
“Matt, let me sit down and work.”
I moved out of the way. My heart sunk to the bottom of my chest. Both directors saw the embarrassment in my eyes.
As they performed the job I had been hired to do, I asked the inevitable, “Should I just leave?”

———————————

I thought I was prepared. “FCP for Avid Editors” is a highly recommended book. I practiced what I learned. I even had a demo from a friend. I figured I could at least make it through the first day and learn the rest along the way, but time was not a luxury. I stayed on the project for two full weeks before everything blew apart. It got much worse than I imagined, with legal threats and firings left and right. The lessons I learned were intense, but at least I was paid good money for those lessons.

This past week I discovered the educational goddess; Lynda.com. At Lynda I found some very detailed tutorials for Final Cut Pro. The amount of information presented in the tutorials is immense and quickly understandable. In just 8 hours, my level of confidence with FCP has skyrocketed.

FCP has frustrated me many times, and I’ve considered going back to school to have an instructor teach me. But school is expensive, and Lynda is $25. It’s a serious godsend for my freelance lifestyle. They also feature tutorials for lots of other software, including After Effects, Photoshop, Maya, Motion, Illustrator and Premiere.

Post-production changes have been drastic in the 5 years since finishing school. I have to learn new technology as quickly as possible or I will drown. Great video tutorials are efficient, flexible, and cheap. They have quickly become my preferred method of education.

-Matt Rittorno

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One Response to “School Is For the Birds”

  1. Jaye said

    This was sooo funny to read. And a great testimonial for Lynda. I was doing a search looking for lynda testimonials and found your site.

    Dunno if you’re a writer, but you should be. This was laugh out loud funny.

    I’d like to increase my skills as well. But classes are so expensive. So thanks for the $25 nod.

    Hope things are better now;-)

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