Luck? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Luck!

“Wow, you are lucky to be working on such great projects” is the type of statement that sounds like nails on a chalkboard to some editors.

I am not one of those editors, but I understand not wanting to have the years of hard work, long days (and nights) and weekends spent grinding away in a cutting room attributed to being lucky.   The sacrifices made are not for the faint of heart and for this field I think the term ‘lifestyle’ is more applicable than just ‘job’.  I’m well aware of the time and effort I’ve put into my career, and I’m also well aware that some of my biggest breaks have come from a friend of a friend or being in the right place at the right time. Luck is a big player in the game though I prefer the term ‘chance’ because luck comes with baggage (good luck, bad luck, dumb luck, no luck…) while chance, on the other hand, is just chance.

I don’t believe you can literally make your own luck, but I do believe that you can increase your chances of success.  For example, continuously honing your craft (both from a creative perspective and a technical perspective), meeting new people (plus keeping in touch with those you’ve already met), and always keeping an eye on job postings (even when you are already working) are all ways to increase your chances for success. To me it’s akin to earning lottery tickets or cards at the bingo hall.  The more you have, the greater the chances of your number being called.  Once you get your number called though, you still have to have the confidence to say yes and the skills to succeed.


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Politics of a cut

There is a saying in editing that you must be willing to ‘slay your babies’.  In other words, you must be willing to cut out very good (or even great) material that you love if that material does not serve the story.  Sometimes, no matter how good a certain scene or moment is, if it does not help propel the piece forward it ends up on the cutting room floor.  Recognizing when this needs to happen, and actually doing it, is one of the most difficult aspects of editing.

Though much less talked about the converse is also true.  There are times when you have to make a bad edit, or leave a bad shot in, because that is the only way for the scene to play out.  Maybe the actor never nailed a solid take, there was insufficient coverage or there were technical difficulties during production.  Whatever the case maybe you, the editor, are hampered by someone else’s mistakes and must make do.

You stare at the screen, pondering how to get the garbage out of your cut.  You experiment by doing a little trimming here and a little rearranging there but to no avail.  The edit, as a whole, is better with the garbage in it.  As much as it pains you to admit defeat the garbage must stay in order for the cut to work.  No matter how nicely you dress it up (even if you receive genuine compliments) you will always see a fractured edit that will never live up to your idea of how fine a piece it could have been.

This is what I mean by the politics of a cut.  It is the constant push and pull, negotiation and compromise between what the editor wants and what the footage is willing to give.

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American Winter

Last year I worked as an Assistant Editor on a feature documentary called “American Winter” about the crumbling middle class in America.  It is a moving, poignant documentary involving everyday families and I’m very proud to have worked on it.  The doc was picked up by HBO and the film’s Producer/Director brothers (Joe and Harry Gantz of Taxicab Confessions fame) are also holding screenings across the country in an effort to raise awareness about the growing hurdles average families face in America (and the cascade effects it can have on future generations).

“American Winter” even found an audience on Capital Hill and not too long ago some of the families and experts appearing in the documentary testified during a Senate Hearing called STATE OF THE AMERICAN DREAM: ECONOMIC POLICY AND THE FUTURE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS (follow the link to watch a recording of the hearing).

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Migrating away from FCP 7 is not always simple

I know many people are surprised that FCP 7 (a.k.a. FCP Legend in some circles) is still so widely used (myself included) two years after Apple killed it, but maybe we shouldn’t be.  There’s the universal ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mantra that I’m sure many are sticking to but I think the long life of FCP 7 is more than just users being comfortable with the devil they know.  By now FCP X, Adobe Premiere Pro, and Avid MC all offer significant advantages over FCP 7 but for some (especially larger installations) switching NLEs is much easier said than done.

Smaller shops can be pretty flexible but facilities that have 10, 20 or even 30+ seats generally move at a glacial pace.  One large facility I worked at was typically 18-24 months behind on OS and software versions so switching NLEs (especially after years and lots of money tailoring workflows around the old FCP) is going to be a long process.  Not only do they have to adjust their workflows to a new NLE, they have to train all their editors and producers on the new software and possibly even find a new pool of freelancers to call on if too few of the cutters in the Rolodex are up to speed on the new NLE.  They also use media managed FCP projects as archives so they’ll need to find a way to migrate those archives into something readable by the new NLE.

If I was in charge of heading up all those changes I’d probably wait until the wheels totally fell off the bus too.

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Which NLE should students learn?

An interesting thread about which NLE is best for students to learn  popped up over at the Creative COW and I decided to summarize my thoughts on it here.

Since the goal is to introduce students to the art of editing I think a basic, no frills NLE (like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker) will have the lowest learning curve as well as fewer potential distractions.  Even if you tell students to ignore all the effects, transitions, filters, etc., the more advanced NLE’s have students will inevitably spend time (possibly lots of time) exploring the program instead focusing on editing.  It’s just human nature to explore a new ‘toy’ even if you only need 10% of what it offers.

After students have gotten their feet wet I think more advanced classes should expose them to tools they are likely to encounter out in the ‘real world’.  Though the students are still learning the art of editing it makes sense for them to get accustomed to the options and flexibility professional level apps offer.  A few years ago my suggestion would’ve been FCP or Avid though now it’s Avid and FCPX or Adobe Premiere Pro.  The post production world is so varied and vast that I think everyone, not just students, should get used to having working knowledge of multiple NLEs.

It seems inevitable that any discussion about the tools of the trade will result in someone saying that talent and skill is more important and that the tool shouldn’t matter.  It’s the artist not the brush, so to speak.  Fundamentally I agree but how many editors use iMovie professionally?  No tool is going to transform a laymen into a skilled professional but tool proficiency could be the deciding factor between two skilled professionals looking for work in an over-saturated job market where budgets, deadlines and already established workflows factor into the editing process.

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Difference between frame rate and timecode.

There are lots of head-scratchers in the world of video and I don’t think many are more perplexing than fractional frame rates and drop frame vs non-drop timecode.  I won’t get into the technical history of why frame rates like 29.97, 23.98, 23.976 and 59.94 exist but I will try and alleviate some confusion about how they relate (or don’t relate) to timecode.

First off, I want to differentiate between frame rate and timecode.  Frame rate is how quickly frames are captured or played back (24.00 frames per second, 29.97 frames per second, etc.,) where as timecode is just a labeling system to give each frame a unique number.  There is no inherent link between the two and right off the bat I should make it clear that a frame rate of 29.97 is not the same thing as 30.00, 23.976 is not the same thing as 24.00 and 59.94 is not the same as 60.00.

For example:
A 60 min clip of 30.00 fps footage will contain 108,000 frames.
A 60 min clip of 29.97 fps footage will contain about 108,107 frames.

If we label frame 1 as 00:00:00:00 and count up one number per frame we will obviously get two different final numbers that represent the same duration of time. This is where drop frame timecode comes into the picture. Drop frame timecode will systemically skip (or ‘drop’) timecode numbers so that the timecode readout of the 29.97 footage will stay the same as the timecode readout of the 30.00 footage (which is the same as real time). It will not drop frames of video (even though the name implies that).

Let’s say we have two pieces of rope that are both 60 inches long.  Rope A is divided into  60 sections each 1 inch long while Rope B is divided into 120 sections each 0.5 inches long.  If I sequentially number the sections of rope, Rope A will be numbered 1 through 60 and Rope B will be numbered 1 through 120.  This is analogous to non-drop frame timecode.  If I need Rope B to end on the same number as Rope A (60) then I will have to skip numbers along the way to get there.  This is analogous to drop frame timecode.  I didn’t skip any actual pieces of Rope B I just adjusted the numbering system so it would line up with Rope A’s.

The FCP 7 manual actually has a pretty good write up about frame rates and timecode (it’s where I pulled some of my numbers from) so if you want to dig a little deeper into this I would check it out.


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Disc based delivery still alive and kicking

DVDs, Blu-ray disc rentals still surpass streaming

Streaming video may be cost-effective and convenient, but consumers are still renting more movies via the mail and physical retailers.

People renting DVDs and Blu-ray discs through retail stores, kiosks, and Netflix’s mail service totaled more than 62 percent of all movie rentals in the first half of the year, according to NPD Group. In contrast, those renting digital movies via subscription streaming, pay TV video on demand, and Internet VOD added up to only 38 percent.

Though physical discs still lead the rental landscape, their popularity has been waning. Rentals of DVDs and Blu-ray discs dropped by 17 percent over the past year. As brick-and-mortal video stores continue to fade away, kiosks have taken their place with 45 percent of the physical rental market, up 5 percent from last year.

Change is inevitable but disc-based media hasn’t turned to dust like pop culture might have you believe.  Heck, it was just recently that legal digital downloads overtook CD sales (50.3% to 49.7%).

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More competition for Netflix

The streaming plot thickens as Verizon and Redbox officially announce their partnership.

The multi-platform subscription service will have both an online streaming and download component, and offer access to newly released movie DVDs and Blu-rays through Redbox’s 36,800 nationwide kiosks. (Netflix, it’s worth noting, mails its DVDs.) Customers will be able to access the online content on devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers and TVs.

It’s supposed to launch later this year but no word yet on pricing nor how many titles will be available for streaming.


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Netflix, a year later

Price hike still haunts Netflix stock 1 year later

Netflix Inc. has bounced back this year to revive its subscriber growth. But even after a recent rally, its stock remains more than 70 percent below its peak price of nearly $305 about a year ago, largely because of concerns about what Netflix has been spending to attract and retain subscribers. The stock gained $3.33, or 4 percent, to close Thursday at $84.97.


Getting subscribers back is certainly a step in the right direction, but I feel like this misstep is going to be costly for Netflix.  There is more competition than ever in the streaming arena and content creators are starting to charge top dollar for streaming rights (if not deciding to get into the streaming business themselves).

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DirecTV downgrades its 3D channel

I don’t know how much we should read into this but DirecTV has switched its all 3D channel from full time to part time programming.  I wonder if broadcasting the Olympics in 3D this summer will pump some new life into 3D programming.

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