David Rennke has been an editor for more than 20 years and has used every editing system imaginable—but always finds himself gravitating back to Avid. On his latest project, editing King Hollis’ independent film Pearl, Rennke used Avid Media Composer 3.0.5. He edited most of Pearl’s dailies on his laptop, on set, which made the process convenient and efficient. For finishing, he used Avid DS v.10 with DNxHD 220x. This allowed everything to work seamlessly and without any crashes—something that surely would have disrupted the film’s 23 precisely scheduled shoot days.

Pearl is a period piece about a female native American aviator in the early years of manned flight. The film was recently screened as a “work in progress” at the AFI Film Festival in Dallas and will premiere this month at the Warren Theater in Oklahoma City.

Rennke spoke to MovieMaker about his experience.

Nora Murphy (NM): There’s a variety of editing software on the market. How do you choose which you want to use for a certain type of project?

David Rennke (DR): Large projects such as a feature film need work-group solutions, since there will be multiple people and tools involved. The sheer scale of the project dictates that a high degree of precision will be required; small errors become magnified when you’re dealing with thousands of edits, and there is no time to chase down and fix glitches in the workflow. On smaller projects, these considerations are still important, but you can brute-force your way through minor problems. On a [big] film, you need real stability and precision in the workflow.

MM: Why did you choose to edit Pearl on Media Composer 3.0.5 with Avid DS v.10? What were the specific advantages of using these platforms on this project?

DR: I have more than 10 years of experience using Avid DS systems on hundreds of projects, both large and small. It was my first choice as a finishing tool and it is tightly integrated with Media Composer and Pro Tools HD. The Avid DS offers the widest range of finishing tools in the industry and is a very mature and stable solution.

MM: How did editing this film compare to other works that you have completed?

DR: The basics are very similar, it just required an even higher degree of concentration to detail. Mark Bowen and I were the editors. We each have more than 20 years experience and utilized every bit of it on this project.

MM: Can you briefly address the audio workflow you used for Pearl and explain why it was crucial for everything to work together in the post process?

DR: Once we had picture locked on various parts of the movie, we created AAF files with embedded audio for the sound team, who then imported them into Pro Tools HD. Since we were on a tight schedule for the screenings, it was crucial that everything line up when I married the audio mixes to the color-corrected footage. Each element was spot-on every time.

MM: Did you face any unique challenges in the finishing process that the Avid DS system helped you overcome?

DR: This was a period piece set in 1920s rural Oklahoma. We tried to minimize modern elements when filming but there were still significant numbers of scenes that required paint, motion tracking, stabilization, color correction and compositing to remove or replace modern artifacts. In addition, since the story centers around Pearl’s flying exploits, we had numerous blue screen aircraft composite shots that required chroma keying and motion tracking. The Avid DS allowed me to perform all these tasks while conforming the edit and keeping everything together in one interface. This not only saves import/export time, but minimizes errors.

MM: Have you ever cut on comparable Final Cut Pro systems? How do the two compare?

DR: I’ve cut on almost every system made in the last 25 years, from linear to non-linear. I’ve used Final Cut on a few projects but have not found it to be my first choice. Workflow, stability and work-group implementation are more advanced on the Avid systems. We had more than 80 hours of DVC Pro HD footage on four Avid systems, including a laptop. In the course of eight months—digitizing, editing and conforming—we didn’t experience a single crash, lock-up or lost piece of media.

MM: How did the production schedule impact your editing process?

DR: We had 23 shoot days over a four week period with one day off each week. They were mostly 14 to 16 hour days, so it was pretty grueling for the production crew and cast, who all did an excellent job. I was on set digitizing selects and reviewing 50 to 60 hours of HD footage using Avid Media Composer 3.0.5 software on a laptop with external SATA storage. When the filming wrapped, I had a good idea of what was in the can and how it would work together. It was also helpful to show quick cuts to the cast and crew on-set so they could see the fruits of their labor. This really helped them keep their energy level and enthusiasm up.

MM: Pearl recently screened as a “work in progress” at AFI Dallas. How does it feel to see your work on the big screen after all the work you’ve put in? As it was a work in progress, how will that screening help in shaping the finished film further?

DR: It was very rewarding for King Hollis, our director, and myself to see how well the story played on a large screen. In addition, many of the cast and crew attended and enjoyed the opportunity to see their work presented in such a great festival. We have used the experience and feedback to further refine the film and look forward to our next screening at the Dead Center Film Festival in June.