What My Post Production Workflow is Missing

post production sitting boss

Recently, my assistant editor has become more involved in my post production workflow.  Firecracker, who functions as Post Production Intern and Sitting Boss decided that he wanted to contribute to my edit last week by walking on the keyboard during a coffee break.  He inserted a clip all by himself, fearlessly exerting his creativity.

That was when I realized I should probably start versioning my projects.

What the Heck is Versioning?

For anyone who doesn’t know, “versioning” refers to creating multiple backup versions of a project, in this case an edit.  These versions are made at various intervals throughout the creation of the project and allow an editor to revert to a previous version of the project with ease, instead of undoing hours of work.

Microsoft Word, Google Docs and Final Draft already have this functionality built in, calling it “Revision Mode.” These programs are expecting multiple writers to work on a single document, revising simultaneously.

In the post production world, most of us will duplicate the project we’re working on before delivering it to the client for approval.  It’s the peace of mind of knowing that you can go back to the original delivery if necessary.  In addition, I version my projects before moving from post production to visual effects and color grading.

I also have Time Machine automatically version my project files, so I can snag the prior version of a sequence if I need it.  This involves recovering a file from an external application, but works in a pinch.  Long story short, you can’t be too careful with versioning.

Autosaving in Post Production

There’s a new trend, at least in Apple applications, to remove the task of saving from the user.  Programs have started autosaving every few minutes to ensure no changes will be lost if the program quits.

Prior to this advent, you had to manually save whenever you made a change you wanted to keep.  This meant saving frequently, but it gave the editor an odd kind of creativity in post production.  You could make broad, sweeping changes without saving and, if they don’t work or are shot down, simply revert to the prior saved state.

Autosaving can be a boon or a curse.  While it’s great that I no longer have to worry about hitting Command+S every ten seconds, it creates a new problem.  There’s no way to go back in time and undo what I’ve done, except by using the Undo command over and over.

All this talk of undoing and reverting might make it sound like editors make mistakes frequently, which is not correct.  You have to understand that editors working on large projects are dealing with input and changes from their bosses, who are in turn dealing with input from their clients.  You could have as many as ten different people contributing to a single project file in one way or another.  To have an application that can’t go back in time and doesn’t allow manual versioning is a serious problem.

“Revert” is Your Best Friend

After discussing Firecracker’s artistic integrity, I realized I had to undo what he unknowingly did.  Most applications (not just post production) have the option to “Revert” to a saved version in the File menu, which would have been an obvious choice.  I could have simply returned to the previous saved state, before Firecracker had the chance to alter the cut.

However, FCPX does not.  This strikes me as remarkably strange.  I’m not going to turn this into a “bash FCPX” post, but it’s a feature that’s sorely lacking.  If a post production application removes the editors ability to manually version his project through selective saving, it should include some failsafes to guard against unwanted feline editing input.

In all seriousness, I’m very disappointed that this feature is missing.  Currently, I’m writing this blog post in WordPress, which versions my work every few minutes automatically.  If I want to revert to a saved state, I simply need to choose the appropriate version from the list at the bottom of the page.  It’s all laid out in front of me in an easy, comprehensible list.

Remarkably like Apple’s Time Machine.

How Cool Would This Be?

Here’s what we need; not just for FCPX but for any post production application.  Go ahead and allow autosaving.  Do it every five minutes as you want.  But make sure every autosave creates a new timestamped file.  There’s no reason these files would be over 1 or 2mb in size – it’s essentially auto – duplicating a project file.

But, also include a “Revision Mode“.  This would allow you access to these versions from within the application.  Just like Time Machine, you enter the revision mode and are able to revert to any saved state of your project.  Client wants the version you delivered a week ago instead?  Boom, it’s two clicks away.

Masters of Space and Time

This technology already exists, it just needs to be implemented.  Heck, you could even implement a “cloud” version that backs up to a cloud server instead of your internal HD.  This would allow you to access your project file, including all its versions, from anywhere.

Developers, I’m looking at you.  Make this a reality and I’ll love you forever.  I’ll even give you a beta tester.  He’s fluffy and he already knows how to perform overwrite edits.

editing timelapse

A Little Editing

I really like GoPros.  I bought one a few months ago for an adventure trip to Belize (that video is in the works) and fell in love with it almost immediately.  It’s a tiny, tough little bugger who now has a permanent space in my camera bag.  There’s even rumblings of 24p and Technicolor’s Cinestyle preset coming as a firmware update, which would make the GoPro a viable B camera on any DSLR shoot.

For me however, the most useful feature of this camera is the ability to set up a quick, discreet timelapse.

gopro editing

So here is a brief “behind the scenes” look at the day of an editor.  Shot on a GoPro.

Music by Radient X.

SBS Screenshot

S*it Bikers Say

A video I shot with Bill Dwyer of atlasrider.com.  Don’t ask me what any of it means, yah tankslappers.


OLB Screenshot

Roman – One Love Baby (Prod. by J Farell)

This is a music video I shot with Samuel Hall for Roman last month.  I’ll be writing up a blog post on it soon, going into some of the technical details of the shoot.  Until then, enjoy.


Return to Assateague

The sand stretches out in front of me.  The waves roll their monotonous song against the shore.  Elizabeth is walking along the wet sand, watching for shells and rocks and little crabs.  Occasionally she pockets something extra – special, an adopted souvenir that will live out its days as potpourri on our bathroom sink.  
Mom turns to look at me.  We’re seated higher, on the dry sand above the tide line.  There are still some people around; tourists catching a few last waves before darkness falls.  
“I’ve been looking for this place,” she says.  
“What, Assateague?” I ask.  
“No,” she replies and I understand her meaning immediately.  
There’s nothing like an east coast beach.  Hot sun, hot sand, cold water.  Boardwalks that span miles, hundreds of shops with identical merchandise, menus of crabs and clams and shrimp.  
I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, young enough to believe my life jacket gave me magical power.  It’s not home.  It’s a sanctuary, a place where I can reorganize the jumble of thoughts in my mind.  
I’ve needed this too.

Due to the recent backlash against FCP, I cut this entire video on Premiere.  We’re still not best friends, Premiere and I, but we are slowly gaining each other’s trust.  I’m curious to see what CS5.5 brings into the mix, and if there are substantial speed increases.

My biggest complaint about Premiere is that it’s just a little too slow.  Final Cut and I move (to use a cliche) “at the speed of my thoughts”.  Premiere and I move “at the speed of my thoughts, plus one second of processing time”.  It gets irritating.  

Color grading and funness was added in After Effects.  This was my first time working with audio in AE that actually needed to be synced perfectly.  As a result, syncing became the most time – consuming part of the whole process.  Let me tell you why.
I had tons of syncing issues.  Literally days of syncing issues.  Normally, I resync my masters in FCP, then export a reference movie to compressor to create the online.  However, I wanted to use an entirely Adobe workflow, so that cut out the “resync in FCP” step.  Instead, I was resyncing in AE, using the TIFF master and the AIFF master (exported from Premiere).
Here’s the issue, the one it took me days to resolve.  Crack open a new Premiere project.  Set it to be the 1080p or 720p DLSR preset.  What’s the bitrate of your audio?  
Great.  Now open up Quicktime and import an .mp3 you like.  Maybe a track from my buddy J Farell.  Good choice.  
Export that mp3 as an AIFF.  What’s your default bitrate for export?
44.1kHz?  Son of a…
Simple, elementary bitrate matching step that I should have caught.  But I didn’t.  And it took forever to figure out what the hell I was doing wrong.  I present it here in the hope that I’ll spare you from the same headache.  
There’s a ton of media associated with this trip.  Check it out on it’s respective sites:

And, as always, feel free to ask any questions that you like.  

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/26910100 w=480&h=270]

This Is Not About Final Cut Pro X

I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and write a blog post about FCPX.  
I’m not going to do it.
I’m not.
Crap, I am, aren’t I?
Fine.  You win.

You win this round.  But the war still rages!
I first sat down with Final Cut Pro in 2001.  I was in my school’s visual broadcasting program at the time, and they upgraded their tape – to – tape editing suite to a Quicksilver Power Mac G4 and FCP 2.5.  
I hated it.  Coming from an iMovie background, Final Cut was hard to use and incomprehensible.  I followed some of the included tutorials, but they were way out of my league.  For most of the year, I ignored it.  
Next year, in a new program with a new teacher, I dove headfirst into the program.  I learned straight from the manual this time, teaching myself page by page.  By the end of the year, I had purchased a copy for myself.  I loved it.  For the past ten years, Final Cut has been my reason to own a Mac.
There’s been a huge backlash to Final Cut X.  I’m not going to get into the specifics here, because it’s been so well outlined in other posts.  I mean, just reading the comments in the App Store is…well, an adventure.  
Ron Dawson has a very interesting post on the new program.  You should really read it (because it’s well thought out and executed) but in a nutshell, he believes that Apple is targeting photographers with FCPX.  Since all these new fangled DSLR’s do a pretty good job at video, they’re assuming that photogs will be eager to try their hand at some non – linear editing of their own.  
And I think he’s right.  Spot on.  
But his post got me thinking about DSLR’s in general.  I’d like to draw some comparisons if I may, and you can tag along if you want.  
Let’s say FCPX is like my Canon 7D.  For a photographer, it’s a great option.  For a filmmaker, it’s sorely lacking some critical features, like stabilization, follow focus, a viewfinder, XLR inputs etc.  Luckily, other companies make solutions for these products.  In some cases, they do a better job than Canon themselves would.  
Take Zacuto.  Want a viewfinder adapter?  You’re almost certainly going to buy a Z – Finder.  Could Canon or Nikon make a similar product?  Sure.  Would it be as good?  Probably not, because they’re a camera company, not a camera accessories company.  
I think the same holds true with FCPX.  We’re doing it already.  Want powerful color correcting software?  You’re probably using Colorista.  Think of the filmmakers you know who denoise with Neat Video or Magic Bullet DeNoiser or sync tracks with PluralEyes.  We buy add ons to make the software do what we want, the way we want.  
That’s the way I see the new Final Cut.  It’s like the body of a camera.  You can build on it, customize it, and make it your personal editing machine.  Granted, this won’t happen until the developers can get their hands dirty in it, but when they can, we’ll be seeing an impressive editing platform that is designed to edit just like you.  

Pictured: Final Cut Pro X
The reality of the lower price point of FCPX is this: it’s cheaper because it has less features.  And you’ll need to spend more to add on those features.  So now it’s up to you: Do you buy an editing suite that has all the features you use and more that you don’t right out of the box (I’m looking at you Premiere)?  Or do you buy a bare bones – customizable suite and add only what you need and use?  
Decisions, decisions…

48 Hours

It’s 4:00am Sunday morning, and I’ve been up for twenty – two hours.  I’m sitting in front of Samuel Hall’s editing suite in South Philly.  He’s just finished color correcting the last shot from our movie.
“Okay,” he says as we watch the yellow render bar slowly creep.  “What’s left?”
Somewhere, deep inside my barely – operational brain, a list begins checking itself off.  Fix the dialog for the second half of the movie.  Record and add foley.  Write, record and mix music.  Render a master and compress an online.  
Is it four in the morning?  Shit.
“I think,” Sam says, “for our health, we should get some sleep.” 
Bill Dwyer
Photo by Samuel Hall
It’s 6:07pm Friday and we’re in my office in Center City, staring at the 48 Hour Guerrilla Film Competition’s website.  My mind runs through possible prompts.  
Romantic Comedy?  Difficult.  
Grindhouse?  No problem.  
Action/Adventure?  A dream come true.  
Space Opera?  We should probably just concede.  
Sam clicks the “Start” button and the GFC’s website refreshes as it loads our prompt.  We hold our breath.  
“Email me a copy of the script,” Sam says before he leaves.  It’s 10pm Friday and we’ve just finished “Blood” a conspiracy thriller.  It will be our life for the next forty – four hours.
This is not a regular screenplay.  It’s four pages long, almost all dialog.  It’s missing scenes because they’re unnecessary to put down on paper.  It’s a cross between Fringe and the Bourne trilogy.  We wrote it in two hours.  We’ve spent the last two planning out shots and logistics.  We’ve contacted the actors and set up times.  In short; we’ve done all we can for the night.
Sam heads home and I email him the script.  We go to bed, where we barely sleep.  I dream that a fat diamondback rattlesnake is chasing me.
It’s 11:30am Saturday.  Bill Dwyer, our everyman hero, sits on a bench in the middle of a crowded Rittenhouse Square.  Next to him is Alexander Sando, a scientist who might not be as crazy as he sounds.  He’s just told Bill that he needs to inject him with a secret serum; the cure to a deadly virus.
“I don’t mind assisting…” Bill begins.  This is the line he can’t screw up.  This is the prompt line, the one we were assigned, the one that has to be perfect.  
A girl, no older than 9, runs through the shot, yelling.  For a moment, the actors hold it together, then break into laughter.  
“Cut,” I say, grinning.  The father apologizes profusely, but we laugh it off.  This isn’t big budget.  Hell, this isn’t even low budget.
I look over to Sam.  He’s crouched behind his camera, laughing and shaking his head at the absurdity of it all.  
We are alive.  
Bill Dwyer, Alexander Sando, me and Beth Gorman
Photo by Samuel Hall
It’s 4pm Saturday and Andrew Feierabend is pointing a pistol at Bill’s head.  Bill is tied to a chair in the middle of a derelict old building.  The floor is giving way in one corner.  Rain hammers the windows outside.  
“Who am I?” Andrew asks, rage coloring the edges of his words.  “I’m the man with the gun.”
Bill looks into his eyes, fearful.  “Where’s the man with the balls to use it?”
The entire crew breaks into laughter.  Beth Gorman goes over to muss Bill’s hair.  It’s too kempt for a guy who’s just been kidnapped.
It’s 8pm Saturday and Billy Zane is talking to Jessica Fletcher.  Meghan Marvin lies on a yoga mat on the floor, occasionally offering words of criticism to the characters on Murder She Wrote.  I’m sitting on the couch.  Sam’s in a recliner.  His cat, Rooth, is curled on his chest.  
We’re waiting for the footage to transcode.  I close my eyes, trying to force myself into sleep for a few minutes.  It isn’t working.
“I have coffee if you want it,” Meghan tells me.
“I didn’t know you drank coffee,” I say.
“I don’t generally,” she explains, “but sometimes I just really crave it.”
Rooth puts her paw on Sam’s face.  It looks like she’s trying to push his mouth open.  
Beth Gorman and Elizabeth Green
Photo by Samuel Hall
“I can’t do this anymore,” I say.  I push away from the computer and stand up.  It’s 11pm Saturday and I’ve been syncing dialog with images for two hours.  The first scene is almost done.
Sam takes over and begins to cut the chase scene.  I drink grape juice and wonder if I’m going home tonight.  
It’s 2am Saturday and I know I’m sleeping here.  The air conditioner hums in the window, the sound accented by the pitter patter of rain on its metal exterior.  
Our cut is done.  The movie is five minutes and forty – two seconds.  
“I think I can do the color correction,” Sam tells me.
I feel like I’m going to die.  I can actually tell that parts of my brain have shut off.  I remember an episode of SGU where they talked about sleep deprivation.  They said that sections of your brain will actually go to sleep, even when you’re still wide awake.  
Sam exports the XML and opens it in Premiere, then After Effects.  I keep seeing something out of the corner of my eye.  It looks like a human figure.  

Bill Dwyer and me
Photo by Samuel Hall


Rooth jumps on me.  I’m on Sam’s couch.  I don’t know what time it is.  I’ve slept soundly and deeply.  
I check my phone.  8:45am.  Sunday.  I get up and take the coffee out of the fridge.  I consider making half a pot, then decide that’s stupid and brew a full one.  I take my first cup upstairs.  It’s in a black Ikea mug.  
Sam’s already there, in his pajamas.  He’s only been up a few minutes.  The day is fresh and I feel surprisingly good.  
11am Sunday.  I feel like shit.  I ate a bowl of shredded wheat mixed with soy milk and vanilla ice cream.  Then I took two painkillers for my headache.  I feel hot.  I think I’m going to vomit.  
Sam’s music fills the room.  He’s deep in Garageband, pounding out drums, cellos and pianos.  I go down to the basement and record foley.  

Bill Dwyer and Andrew Feierabend
Photo by Samuel Hall
It’s 3pm Sunday.  Sam’s other cat, Chelsea, wanders over his desk, rubbing herself against his chin.  He reaches around her to use his keyboard.  He doesn’t throw her down.  
We’re doing the final mix: dialog, music and foley.  Sam doesn’t like the final piece of music.  He sits down at his keyboard, almost in a rage.  He re – scores the entire end of the movie.  It’s better.  
“I just want my life back,” he says.  It’s a half joke.  Only half.  
I never did vomit.
It’s 4pm Sunday and it’s done.  We stand at the island between Sam’s living room and kitchen.  He makes beans and I eat ice cream.  Upstairs, the computer compresses an online version of our forty – eight hours of effort.  
“We have to re – integrate with society now,” Sam says.  This is true.  We’ve lived this movie for the past two days.  There has been nothing else.
I make a joke about the “civvies” and put my ice cream in the freezer.  We go upstairs to upload the movie to the website.  We are exhausted, pushed to the very brink of our endurance.  
We are alive.  [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/23794003 w=400&h=225]

Watch it here.