The hokey-cokey style of editing

(in, out, in, out, shake it all about - for those unfamiliar with the childrens song)

The past month or so has been devoted to the Fiction graduation film. It's been a bit of a journey, and our final structure is borne of the knowledge that we've tried just about all reasonable alternatives in-keeping with the genre. We're at the stage now where if someone suggests something different to the version they're seeing, I can just grab it from another sequence and demonstrate why it was rejected.

However, the fact that we've arrived at something which bears a strong resemblence to the first cut (barring two scenes swapped and others shortened or deleted) may have been a product of not trimming the scenes down at an earlier stage, to work with their position at the time - which would have made it easier to isolate the reasons why certain themes weren't working so well rather than leading us around a mad semi-fantasy world in which half of the virgin audience thought that our main character was mad (we're aiming for rom-com)! Not that that didn't have its value of course - we determined the precise value of the dream section and returned it to its original form, cutting out all recurrences or flashbacks - even those originally scripted.

But whilst I thought I was going in and trimming as much as I could whilst we were still moving scenes around - thereby saving time because of not having to massively adjust scenes when we'd changed the order of events, I can see now just how much it held us back. In one sense.

In the other sense, we're still on track to picture lock on the original schedule - and we almost certainly wouldn't have arrived at the same film with the same confidence had we not gone through the stages that we did.

[caption id="attachment_58" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="A still from the NFTS Short "Mr Perfect" (working title)"]A still from the NFTS Short "Mr Perfect" (working title)[/caption]
A still from "Mr Perfect"

Some screengrabs

The documentary's finally onto the post-editing stages (i.e. sound and colour). We ended up getting another editor who spoke Italian to do some work to finish it off, I think the final count was 10 or 11 weeks in the edit between everyone.

This is one of the later stages, complete with temporary subtitles. The main video (and associated audio) is mostly coloured by character or location, which helped to give a decent at-a-glance indication of how the overall structure was looking without having to go through scene by scene every time we moved something.

Doc edit in AXP Doc edit in AXP

Meanwhile, the animation's been moving... well, as quickly as these things do, I guess. Most of the significant line drawing's almost complete (there are assistants to do intermediate steps, as well as colouring once a few frames have been done), and we've altered the timing of a few shots now where it seemed right in the animatic, but had to change slightly once motion was added. There's more still to come, but it makes the most sense to just spend half an hour each day with the director and run through any queries and recent work - less frequently if there's a lot of other stuff going on, but she's the fastest WACOM user in the West! Since she's working with stills for the filmed backgrounds, the best bet's probably going to be to reimport the final film with the new timings, alter the HDCAM backgrounds to sync with the film, then re-export for the compositing stages.

A still from the NFTS short animation 'Cherry On The Cake' A still from the NFTS short animation 'Cherry On The Cake'

I've also been learning a bit of DVD Studio Pro in my downtime, with a view to producing a proper showreel DVD with complete films within each type of thing that I've cut (documentary, animation, fiction, adverts, promos etc). I'd done some really basic stuff with it in the past, and I'm still going the long way around on some things I'm sure, but anything which allows this amount of control is worth it:

Preliminary thoughts on editing showreel layout in DVD Studio Pro Preliminary thoughts on editing showreel layout in DVD Studio Pro

... yes, that IS a picture from Cherry in the background. It's intentionally blurred, and makes an appearance in the film in a photo frame - the level of detail on that model was fantastic.

Time to clear some of the 50+ hours of documentary rushes from my hard drives to make way for the fiction. After that is a sketch show (post planned for October/November), then it's just supervising post on the films I've done and out into the 'real' world. Easy.

Showreel now online

In what some would call an extraordinary feat of self-publicising (whilst others may point out that that's sort of what a blog/ website is anyway), here's my present showreel:

I intend to do another one in a few months' time once all of the grad projects are over, since they should technically be my showcase pieces... but I find it useful to at least know that I've got something up before the great (and quite probably eternal) job search begins. There's just no way of knowing what time I'll have free between now and then - though my documentary edit has at least now resumed after reshoots. Which means yet more digitising... in many ways I can't wait for everything to go tapeless, but if it could hold off for just a bit longer whilst I'm not relying on digitising jobs to eat, that'd be fantastic.... Though my recent frustrations with exporting and uploading to network (for backup) a 22,000+ HDCAM resolution TARGA sequence suggest that there'll still be jobs around for a while yet. Also that my WD 1TB firewire drive was indeed a good investment. It's turned out to be a vital piece of kit in the last few weeks.

Animation progress: Import, Export, Repeat.

Production designer James makes some last minute adjustments to the set

Production designer James makes some last minute adjustments

The second stage of editing on my NFTS graduation animation, in which the live action background rushes are assembled according to our original animatic, has been completed. The backgrounds from the first shoot were done a few weeks ago, and given to the animator as a low-res .mov so that she could start work on the line drawings and getting the early stages of the animation started. This finished sequence will now replace that half-finished version in the first layer of her after-effects timeline.

Handles have also been added to a duplicate sequence to be graded (to allow colouring and compositing to start) so that they're available for any extensions to the head or tail of a shot, should they turn out to be necessary - even though we timed everything as near as possible during the animatic phase. The film was shot with this in mind, so overall the sequence with the handles that will be graded is almost twice as long as the animatic and final film, though it's the same number of shots so it shouldn't be a major additional burden on the grading - and notes will be made on the EDL on which frames (multiple of 10 for easy trimming purposes) at the start and end of a shot are the handle.

We'll be exporting a full res (1920 x 1080) TARGA sequence from the online suite because the school edit suites only have Sony HVR-M15Es and we're not linked to any of the higher-res decks, and once I've removed the handles I'll be giving my animator a TARGA sequence (plus any additional frames as necessary)... so it seems to make sense. To us, and that's possibly what counts the most. It's all about the trial and error really - the way we're going about it may not be the most efficient, but given the resources we have plus the need for the animator and editor to have immediate access to the graded handles once the grader's left the job (he's a former student of the school - grading a grad project at this point in the year is a tricky proposition) it's what we've come up with.

Editing in an unknown language

Because of commitments to other films, the documentary film that I'm editing is effectively a week into the process, or a week and a half 'real' time. It's been an interesting one to plan out - mostly because the rushes are largely in Italian (with some parts in Ukranian), and I speak neither language. An additional element is that my director is heading out to shoot another week or so's worth of additional material on Sunday, and needed to a) be in a position to know what would best complement the material already shot - which will likely form the central thread of the documentary, and b) leave me in a position to be able to work with the largely interview-based material on my own, without her there to translate.

I thought I'd share what my workflow so far's been, and the vague outline of how we've gotten from 25 hours of rushes in which I understood very little of the speech to a stage where I feel confident of being able to do some proper editing work whilst there are still some sections of the documentary being filmed.

  1. Outline translation from tape of main themes and topics in interview, with loose timecode and tape number. This was done by the director whilst I was still digitising and logging the interview segments as massive chunks with logical breaks, and splitting up the GVs by location.

  2. Clip selection from our main interview, in this case the woman who runs the marriage agency that the film's based around. This went more rapidly than it would have without the outline translation, as some parts were clear repeats in a less useful context - and we'll still have that outline further down the road. Lots of pausing and asking what came before/after the bit which we'd already selected - but trusting that the director understands the criteria for selection was the biggest factor.

  3. Detailed translation of the selects. About two hours' worth of interview material from our main interviewee, and half an hour or so from the Ukranian section. BITC relating to rushes TC rather than sequence TC because of how it relates to the way the material had been captured and logged.

  4. Familiarisation with material. Reading, marking with highlighter pens, taking notes with associated tape/timecode. Anything interesting, anything informative, anything potentially relating to something which will relate to the additional material yet to be shot.

  5. Writing down main 'stories' and themes from the transcript, with knowledge of the available material. We went in quite close on this part, since many segments of interview relate to multiple themes at once - although we had an idea of what would probably go together.

  6. Arranging the stories to give an overall film structure. Whilst we're aware that a lot of material is yet to be shot, it's useful to have an idea of the shape of the film before going out and shooting - and invaluable to know that both editor and director are heading in the same direction in each others' absence.

Early structure of the NFTS graduation documentary film

A long room can be useful. Failing that, a corridor. I like to take my directors out of the edit suite in the early stages where possible, so that it's less of me being the one operating and doing stuff relating to their film.

The cards next to each other are in no particular order because of the thematic overlaps, it's where they are in relation to what's above or below them that we've worked on most. The cards all relate to certain timecodes and tapes - some have more than one instance of the same story or content, so both timecode/tape references are there. That's now on my wall, with additional sticky notes... it'll be interesting to see how it gets rearranged over the course of the edit, especially once the new material comes in. But for now I'm set... and expecting a few unintentionally humourous cut points when I go over an out point, but great things have been discovered that way before now...

It never rains...

There must be some law of blogging or general internet social communication, similar to Godwin's Law (but without the Nazis), which covers the situation that whenever things which are worthy of telling others are happening you're too busy actually doing them to be able to tell anyone else about them in a way which is worthy of their scale.

This week, for example. It's the first week of the 5 week (scheduled) documentary graduation film. The animation grad film that I've been working on the storyboard/ animatic for has started shooting the live backgrounds with another shoot scheduled for next month, and there are treatments for the fiction (shooting July/August) flying around. To top it all off, in a certain amount of style admittedly, this week we've had Roger Deakins and Mike Leigh come in to the school to show us some of their work and answer questions on their work and techniques. I may be an editor rather than a cinematographer or director, but both of them were so inspiring and with enough to say about how they collaborated with the other departments that both sessions were truly unmissable.

So my intended post on my efforts and attempted/ intended workflow on working in a foreign language or two which I don't speak will have to wait a while. But it's an experience I knew I'd appreciate. And I'm picking up a bit of the language as I go too!

Site updates

Over the last few days, during the quiet(er) moments, I've been trying to do some work on my website. Some of it's not visible, some of it's very small indeed - for example, the new favicon which I'm actually quite happy with: favicon

Some of it however is fairly significant. I've uploaded some clips to my previous work page (which can be no longer than 10% of the total film running time according to school rules - it's a festivals and rights thing as I understand it), added my most recent fiction short, and added a 'current projects' page to the blog along with status updates - once they get going in a major way I may break them up into seperate pages per project depending on how much it's possible to write on them.

I hope to also get a flashy-cutty 'showreel to music' thing up to just quickly show the types of project that I've been involved in, but I'm still waiting to hear back from the school on that as the additional lengths of clips would take it over 10% - although a bare minimum of original sound remains. I'm not sure how much people look at that sort of thing professionally, but it's probably more accessible to my family and friends who don't work in the industry.

Animation update

We have yet to team up for our graduation fiction films, got documentary finally sorted at the start of the week (hopefully I'll be getting some rushes on Monday for that)... but animation's been in the works for a while now, so I thought I'd write a bit about that.

Wednesday is our 'final' board meeting, by which point the storyboard should be completely sorted. The editors have only actually had the last 5 days to be working full time with the animators - it's been a moment here and there stolen from another project before now. So essentially that's 7 days to get the animatic sorted and sort out the angles, plot holes, ordering, trimming of redundancies.... theoretically all possible. Except every time you request a new angle or additional drawing to fill in either information in the current angle or a new one, the animator has to go and draw that, as well as scan it!

Once all of the frames from the original storyboard had been scanned and put in order, we basically started working in a system where I played around with timings and made a wish list of extra shots/ points to raise while Hye-Bin (my director) was working on some new frames. We meet up when she's done with that. We quickly insert the frames in to where they were meant to be, I go through my new list with her, we discuss some of the plot points and/or pacing issues that are emerging from the present version, then I go and trim the frames we'd just inserted and look through it some more whilst she goes and draws the solutions we think of during our chat. And repeat.

It's a process not without difficulties. The main point at the moment is making sure that an audience understands what's going on - especially since there's going to be very little intelligible dialogue even when the film's been finished. For this film we should initally be aiming for an animatic completely without sound, any points which motivate action (e.g. a doorbell) should be drawn on to the frame at the appropriate point or added in FCP. Looking over the current film this weekend I'm considering suggesting the removal of a scene which I think isn't adding much to the film - however nice it is and how much we've worked on it, it's sometimes a decision you have to make. And the ending's something that neither of us are yet completely satisfied with - but we're sort of hoping for inspiration to strike!

Screening of work in progress

Inspired by a comment by beowulf.grimbly:

As part of the film school process, we constantly have reviews of the film as we're working on the edit so that the tutors can advise when something doesn't seem to be working out, ask the right sorts of questions about how necessary certain scenes are or the ordering of the ones we have.... etc etc. But at the start it was difficult to get used to it (despite having been part of the selection process for admittance to the school - 11 people took a 5 day course at the school for the 6 places). Screenings, no matter how late in the edit, were inevitably accompanied by some form of disclaimer on how there hadn't been time to do one bit, how it wasn't yet close to what we were actually going for because we hadn't had time to physically and/ or technically achieve that, or how it wasn't quite along the right lines corresponding to the director's vision once we started learning to work with directors and needed our own time to find the film....

But for the most part we've learnt to get past that now. Whether it's the self-confidence that we know that it's not the final edit and will hopefully be able to persuade anyone who asks of that fact now that we've had a bit of experience, or that we've grown used to the process, or just that it's too valuable whilst at Film School to not get every ounce of opinion that you can on your film (even if the suggestions profferred aren't ultimately taken up and a different solution is tried), it's something that I hadn't really noticed until working with the composer on the short I've been cutting for the last 3 weeks. Until now they've been used to working primarily with picture locks, but we really wanted to see how much some original music could set the tone and move the film on a bit so we brought it in fairly early in the edit. And all of the old discussions about screening rough cuts came back to me. Back when we used to work on the same rushes for exercises, and had screenings every few days so that we could see what everyone else was doing with the same material. And funnily enough, though we may have 'borrowed' ideas from another cut we still never ended up with even two films vaguely alike. Seeing the different stories you could tell by choosing different shots at different moments was possibly one of the most pivotal moments of my first term at Film School, and if I'd been hiding behind my seat from the shame of having to show my unfinished work to other people I think I'd have missed a lot. And I suppose that that would always hold true whilst you still consider yourself to be learning a craft - i.e. for as long as you continue to do it.

What I guess I've really learnt out of the experience is how to make the most of the early days - to make a proper rough representation of how a film will be, with the majority appropriate shots in the right place. Early edits can be fairly demoralising when cuts don't seem to flow or characters aren't really coming alive. But finding the bits which aren't working can really help on the way to getting a respectable cut, especially when you get that first onscreen insight into what makes your character tick. And if it's all been a struggle and things still aren't working, an outside perspective on the world you think you've been trying to create can really help to just plant a new idea in there. Just for now, I'm trying not to discount anything which may ultimately be of benefit to the film, and the comments made always help to remind me what I should be looking out for as an editor.

Hello, wordpress

I've just migrated my blog from movable type to wordpress. Whilst I do enjoy learning new programming languages (ish) and being able to customise to my heart's content, movable type was just a little too advanced for me and most of the time I had no idea what had gone wrong whenever something didn't appear right, or hadn't logged in correctly. There are some features I miss, and I haven't had a proper play yet... but ease of use is a pretty big thing for me, and wordpress just slid right on. Links should have been redirected, new RSS feed.

So here's the new blog, which I can also update from school - which may be slightly dangerous. In any case, I'm currently officially half-way through my winter fiction edit (last fiction before the graduation films) - though only just past the first cut stage because of spending the first week waiting for the year above's grad films to play out on the HDCAM deck I needed,  then sorting through the rushes once I'd digitised them. But it's now resembling a film, however lumpy.

I've now teamed up for my graduation animation film. I'm working with Hye Bin Lee, who I'm really happy to be working with again after an excercise last year, and Michelle 'BAFTA nominated' Eastwood. As some called her at the time. We're getting our documentary pitches later this week, then fiction after our Easter break. Presumably once we've finished editing the current project and the directors have had time to properly think about their films.

Oh, and Walter Murch visited the school for a day. Weird guy, but great. Covered a lot of the stuff that's in In the Blink of an Eye, but also had some very entertaining images and techniques. And my fellow editors at school no longer see me as hyper-organised, relatively speaking (though they still mock my colour scheming). But he's very careful to stress that these things are what works for him - different people may find different styles. Just because he likes to wear the same jumper when sound-mixing, and take photos of the buildings where he's edited (with his window circled) he's not suggesting that we all do!

Except you should always stand up - he’s quite clear on that. Good old Walter.