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DIY Digital Editing

DIY Digital Editing

Articles - Directing

Schmoozing at No Dance '99

Editor Steve Bruskin, right,
with Executive Producer Neal Mortiz in the editing room of
UPN’s "Shasta McNasty." Steve is editing the show
on AVID Film Composer equipped with Media Share.

How will most of us make movies in the next century?
As we head into the new millennium, the limitless possibilities
that new technologies offer moviemakers present a series of formidable
challenges and myriad choices that go with them. Among the most
crucial factors in creating works of cinema on an independent basis
is the selection of an appropriate post-production system. Perhaps
more so than other aspects of the cinematic process, editing technologies
have reached a point in development where a variety of systems are
available to the moviemaker without access to high-end post-production
facilities. More than ever before, moviemakers can now explore options
that yield professional results without the post-production aspects
of a project weighing too heavily on their budget.

“You can put together all the tools for making
a film for $10,000,” said Steve Bruskin, a picture editor for
movies and television shows, most recently the new comedy “Shasta
McNasty,” which airs on UPN. “We are in a really wonderful
age right now where the financial risk in making a small film is
very low because of all the consumer-oriented products like Digital
Video (including Mini-DV) and Final Cut Pro. Soon you will have
a lot more people taking this initiative to make films.”

Having worked as a digital editor after studying basic
filmmaking techniques, Bruskin compares the difference between traditional
film editing and digital editing to that of working with a manual
typewriter as opposed to a modern word-processing program. “You
can cut and paste, instantly save multiple versions of the same
piece, find all your material instantly, play with your material
more quickly and easily than ever before.

Bruskin describes the process used to edit a film
digitally: “You must first transfer all the film to a time-coded
video medium such as Beta SP,” he said. “Then you must
digitize it into an editing system, which means putting the tape
onto the hard drives of the editing system so that it becomes instantly
available via ran

Schmoozing at No Dance '99

Elizabeth Gaylynn Baker
writer-director of When Buffalo Roam

dom access. Once that’s done you can edit the
show. Then, depending on your intended delivery, you either need
to do an on-line edit from your original transferred tapes or conform
your film negatives to match your digital editing cut.” In
the future, Bruskin expects this process to get simpler, more powerful,
less expensive and considerably more versatile.

For Elizabeth Gaylynn Baker, the writer-director of
When Buffalo Roam, which won the Best Social Documentary short at
the 1999 New York International Independent Film & Video Festival,
the panoply of choices in the world of digital editing was overwhelming
at first. “I had absolutely no experience in post-production
when I attempted to make my first documentary film,” she said.
“There was so much to learn and I only had a $900 budget for
editing. In the land of post-production, that hardly even counts.”
With five-and-a-half hours of film, 30-odd hours of Hi-8 footage,
and both narration and music on DAT, Baker created an eight-minute
piece. “I didn’t really set out to cut it as a short doc;
I cut it as a preview to raise funds to finish an hour-long piece.
Two different editors gave me what amounted to six days of their
time on the AVID, which opened up a creative dimension that has
never before been possible. I felt like I had reached beyond my
limits.”

Beyond AVID, the system universally chosen by most
professional filmmakers—but one that can cost $50-$150,000—several
other systems have crept into the post-production vernacular. Enrique
Diaz, a self-proclaimed digital filmmaker and the proprietor of
Digital Business and Design College, has used a variety of digital
editing systems and software to create commercials for cable TV,
instructional videos, and 3-D animated short features. “One
such film I was involved in was shot using three Canon XL1 digital
cameras, with the cost of each camera (with accessories, not counting
interchangeable lenses) averaging $10,000. The editing hardware
and software was another $10,000,” he said. “For independent
filmmakers, budget restrictions are a huge consideration, so the
most affordable and effective hardware and software is recommended:
a firewire native computer is best (such as the Macintosh G3 or
G4) as well as external firewire drives (25 Gigs or better as nine
minutes of film takes up approximately two Gigs) with accessible
Final Cut Pro software. I use the same hardware for post-production
sound but additional software such as Cubase VST Sound Edit Pro
and Pro Tools.”

To create simple but effective post-production visual
effects without farming such work out to a facility, Diaz recommends
additional compatible software programs including Adobe Premiere,
Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, Director, Flash, and QuickTime.
“After Effects uses a plug-in technology, so that as new effects
become popular and available, you don’t have to buy a whole
new program,” he noted. “Also, it works great with the
most widely used digital imaging software, Photoshop. One film that
used After Effects (and Photoshop) for its special visual effects
was Virtuosity with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.”

Still, for other moviemakers, ingenuity in one’s
modification of home technology can provide a professional editing
environment with decidedly minimal investment. Case in point: independent
filmmaker Damien Collier recently completed the feature film The
Catalyst with his own computer equipment. “I’m most proud
of editing The Catalyst because I drew on all my technical knowledge
as well as pushing myself with the medium to tell a good story,”
he explained. “I shot The Catalyst on Super-16mm film, transferred
to digi-beta tapes, and had VHS dubs made. To edit the film, I took
my existing PC, converted it to Windows NT, added a Targa 2000 card,
AVID Mac-Xpress for Windows NT Software, an external 18 gig Seagate
Cheetah Drive, and hooked up an S-VHS deck that has a Sony 9-pin
control port and LTC timecode. One negative to doing this is that
you often have to do your own tech support when there’s a problem!
We then re-edited the film in on-line using the original digi-beta
transfer tapes, which had the same timecode as the VHS tapes.”

Drawing on his experience, Collier’s advice to
other filmmakers with little or no budget is to creatively solve
their problems. “There is a reason why the more expensive equipment
is out there: it usually has more options,” he said. “It
then becomes a matter of what compromises

Schmoozing at No Dance '99

Steve Bruskin picture editor
"Shasta McNasty"

you’re willing to make. It becomes really advantageous
to balance being technical with your own creativity.”

Before filmmakers choose how to edit their work, they
ought to consider the film/video format that they utilized and the
project’s final destination, according to Dieter Rozek, an
editor, AVID/Pro Tools Instructor and cameraman whose experience
began with on-line “linear” editing systems and has progressed
into the “non-linear” digital realm. “Systems such
as the AVID Media/Film Composer and Lightworks excel in long-form
feature, sitcom (multi-cam), and animation projects, as they support
24-frame editing,” he explained, describing the process. “After
the project is cut, if the show is going to TV or tape formats,
an EDL is made to assemble the material on an “on-line”
system. If film is going to theaters, a cut list is made for the
negative cutter to splice the film together, and an EDL is generated
to edit the sound. The edited soundtrack is transferred to magnetic
track and is optically married to the finished film.”

Rozek sees a trend to eliminate any type of media
for projection whatsoever. “Tape will solely be used for archival
purposes, and the entire process from acquisition to post will be
kept in a digital format,” he said. “Distribution may
occur via satellite to digital projectors in theaters, streaming
video over the Internet and DVD for the consumer market. Editing
facilities may switch to shared media networks, in which multiple
editors can simultaneously access the same or different footage
from drives located in another office, perhaps even another building
(or another country?) via fiber channel. Future distribution of
“films” could proceed via the internet, where the consumer
would be able to download the film onto a hard drive to view on
a computer or a digital TV.”

Should one own or rent these new digital editing systems?
Editor, writer and director-of-photography Will Hooke’s post-production
experiences include shooting and editing The Making of Crimson Tide,
and creating the electronic press kit for Enemy of the State, both
for director Tony Scott. For the latter, Hooke purchased a Media
100 XS non-linear system and has since edited a variety of documentary/
behind-the-scenes pieces and industrials. “AVID and Media 100
are the two best systems on the market,” Hooke stated. “With
AVID you pay more for the name, but also get more sophisticated
editing tools, including multi-camera and 24-frame film editing.
Like AVID, Media 100 comes with a hardware/software combination,
but is much less expensive. Although a Media 100 system can cut
a feature, it lacks some editing tools which linear-based editors
have grown used to. However, The Blair Witch Project was mastered
on a Media 100 and outputted to film.”

Given Hooke’s experience, he recommends buying
equipment if the regularity of editing jobs necessitates it. “If
you see yourself doing multiple projects where you’d need to
rent editing equipment, then do the math and see if it makes sense
to invest in the equipment yourself. It’s getting easier and
less expensive to build your own editing platform, especially if
you’re editing Mini-DV footage. For example, Final Cut Pro
is priced below $1,000 and delivers excellent editing tools.”

Similarly, Hooke noted that on the software end, competitive
alternatives to Adobe’s widely-used After Effects are now available
to home-based moviemakers. “Currently, there is an abundance
of relatively inexpensive, powerful software available for the desktop
to produce high-quality visual effects,” he said. “Such
programs as Lightwave 3-D (used in Titanic) and Electric Image (used
to create some of the effects for “Star Trek: The Next Generation”)
offer high-end 3-D creation available on the desktop. Also, Commotion,
created by Scott Squires at ILM, is a Macintosh-based program that
allows sophisticated rotoscoping, wire-removal, and motion-tracking,
among other features.”

To edit one’s sound, Hooke offered several solutions.
“Pro Tools is the industry standard for digital sound editing,
but there are others, including Mark of the Unicorn, which retails
for half the price,” he said. “Media 100 has decent internal
audio controls, including eight tracks of audio, nodal-point editing
and excellent EQ, and AVID’s high-end systems also offer good
internal audio editing.”

Rapidly advancing technologies have filmmakers like
Hooke anticipating certain developments with regard to editing both
sound and picture. “Digital video will supplant Betacam SP,
eventually,” he predicted, “and everyone is waiting for
Sony’s 24-frame progressive scan HD camera, which will be modified
for Panavision lenses. This prototype is being talked up as the
workhorse of George Lucas’s next installment of Star Wars.
If it’s as great as everyone thinks it will be—and I suspect
it will be pretty good—then this will slowly start to make
in-roads into the feature world. However, film is a long from being
pronounced dead, and Kodak and Fuji will continue to advance
film stocks well into the next century.”

Whether the true moviemaking future will
be on film, digital formats, or HDTV (high-definition television),
at least one post-production professional foresees a time nearing
that is more conducive to independent home-based moviemakers.
“In the future, everything will be faster and work on smaller,
less expensive platforms,” said Mitchell S. Drain, a compositing
supervisor at LA-based Centropolis Effects. Even though
he now works on a $900,000 software system called Inferno, Drain
fondly remembers his post-production origins.

“My experience goes back to the mid-’80s
when we did things the old fashioned way— pre-digital,”
he said. “Now, I always try to use the tool best suited for
the task on my projects, which include Independence Day, Godzilla,
and the current film, End of Days. Eventually, the software that
we use at large facilities to do these big movies will make its
way to PC platforms and be readily available to the home boutique.
Soon, you’ll be able to achieve complicated visual effects
shots with software that you can run on your Macintosh or PC.” MM

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