5 Ways to Idiot-Proof Your Editing Project

5 Ways to Future Proof Your Edit Project

Continuing with the editing adventure that is The Drownsman, I thought it would be a good idea to communicate a valuable lesson that continues to get learned with each project: 1. Use version numbers for filenames, sequences, comps, etc.

Here's a secret: The sequence you start editing first is NOT the one you will be delivering. There will be changes. Lots of them. Decided on by you and also those requested by the client. So future-proof your work so that you can easily go back a few steps if you have to. Let's say you edit a montage sequence (labelled v01), the client asks for changes which you eagerly make for them, then they change their mind and decide they preferred it the way it was before. Uh-oh. When you made the changes did you duplicate the sequence first and start working on a new version (v02) and save your previous work?

Plus, there's another reason to use different version of project files: have you ever had your project file get corrupted? One day it just decides to not open and it's now beyond saving? But you didn't do anything wrong! But if you regularly duplicate the project file itself and start a new version of it, you may then have a series of backups that you can fall back on.

Oh, and when you submit your finished video to the client and they see that it's up to v26, they'll see just how busy you've been making changes for them.

2. Organize your bins

Imagine you're locking this project file in a capsule to be opened by some stranger in the distant future. If they were to open it up and look at it, will they be able to make sense of it? If this project is staying with you, then that future stranger could be you looking back into your archives for that important edit that you need to return to for some reason. Maybe a client you've done work for for years wants to assemble a montage of all videos in the past 5 years for an anniversary event. Or maybe you can use some work that you've done in a previous edit for a current one.

If this project is being handed over to someone else at any point, then you want them to appreciate the great job you've done organizing it and making it so easy for them to make sense of. Files are organized, folders are used and labelled properly, they don't have to hunt for missing elements or decipher your cryptic filenaming system that only you understand. It's like telling your friend to go into your garage and find the doohickey. Will your friend be able to make sense of your garage or will it be an utter mess that they'll be forced to search through?

The lesson here: If the project ever has to be opened again by anyone, including you, make it easy for the editor to understand the project setup and get to work sooner.

3. Use common sense when assigning names

When giving a name to a sequence, keep it simple. Not so simple as in "Sequence 1", "Sequence 2", etc. But clearly mark it for what it is: "Avatar2_DirectorsCut_MasterSequence_v03", "SpaceSharks_Scene4a_TOCOLOUR_v05", "TerminatorMeetsFrankenstein_TeaserTrailer2_v01". Or if it's an element being used for a larger project, for instance: "CircleOfMedia_InternetPromo_AnimatedLogo_v01". By reading it you know exactly what it is. Simple.

4. To transcode or keep it Raw?

This goes with the next point, but are you going to transcode footage and edit from proxy files? Or will you be keeping all of the files in their native format (you might only do this if you're working with RAW footage like from a RED Epic camera)? If you're combining different types of footage from different cameras, some transcoding will likely have to take place. Sure, you COULD get away with not transcoding so all video files are the same type, but that's just messy and leads to extra render time later. If the colourist or VFX supervisor wants Raw footage to work with (and they will) then you might edit with Raw footage to get the project to them easier. Or if you're doing all of post yourself, then maybe it will make your life easier.

5. Create a roadmap for the journey

When you leave to go for a drive to get something to eat, do you hop into your car and just start driving expecting that you'll get to a place that serves food eventually just through the act of driving? Of course not. You think of where you'd like to end up and then make a plan for getting there. Setting up your project file before you start out editing should be no different. Think of where you're starting (What type of footage are you dealing with?), where you're going (What format is this project to be delivered in? Is this for screening in a cinema or festivals? Is this going to a distribution company with their own set of delivery specs to adhere to? Is it going online on a YouTube channel?) and what points do you need to pass along the way (Does the project need to be handed to a colour lab, VFX facility or audio post studio? How will the client like to view progress, separate scenes or a full edit sequence?).

These are all important things to know before starting your project. Once after finishing a lengthy edit project and getting ready to send it to an audio studio I realized that I had edited the sequence with mixdown tracks only, not with the individual mic tracks. The studio would not accept this to work with. This meant I had to spend an entire day going through and replacing each and every audio track one-by-one. All because I didn't think of where the sequence was going once I was done cutting. A mistake on my part, but not one I'll repeat again.

The Answer to Which Editing Software You Should Choose

Avid, Premiere Pro, Final Cut

T'is a question as old as time itself: which editing program is the best? Every editor asks this when they first start out. Most editors continue to re-ask this early into their career. The quick answer? None of them is THE BEST. They are all simply tools that are used to get the job done. Not one is better than the other.

So how do you choose one to use and master? Some suggest that you base your decision on several important factors: compatibility, cost, ease of use, accessibility, etc. Most would tell you to use what's available to you right now (free tools like Windows Movie Maker or iMovie). And I think it's incredibly safe to say that an unsurprisingly large number of editors would tell you to just download torrented software. While I'm not telling you which one of these you should do, I will say that these factors will help you decide which program to learn FIRST.

I said "first" back there because I'm about to give you my answer to which program you will choose: All of them.

There was a time (even before I was editing) when you chose your path when it came to editing software. They were all so expensive, difficult to access and took a lot of effort to become proficient in their use. So if you wanted to market yourself as an Avid Editor, that was your choice. And provided you knew your stuff and spoke Avid's language, you could get work fairly easily. There were clients out there who were looking specifically for someone who knew their way around that specific program and would hire you.

Nowadays the game has changed: the cost of software and hardware has dropped significantly, support and tutorials are literally everywhere (in the form of books and online materials), and the client you're trying to convince to hire you is one of two people: 1) They expect you to know the program that THEY favour. If you don't, you'd better learn it. 2) They're not familiar with any of them and couldn't care less which one you use, as long as it's the "right" one. You're the editor, you should know.

I first started on Final Cut Pro 7 (before the dark ages of FCPX) and became very proficient with it. After getting a number of smaller freelance jobs, I was about to secure my first big-paying project with a client. I knew that when they hired freelance editors they preferred them to use the in-house Avid suite. So as I worked to get my foot in the door with them, a copy of Avid got installed onto my computer and I put in time to get familiar with it. One day they called and needed me to start a big editing project the next day. It was urgent. They asked me how well I knew Avid and the answer they got was a confident, "Why, YES I do!"

Shortly after that I was learning Premiere Pro. And then I was saying yes to clients looking for editors who used Premiere Pro. I even took a step back and learned iMovie, which came in handy when someone approached me for one-on-one tutoring lessons using that program. And it took almost NO TIME to master.

What other advantage is there to not devoting yourself to one single program? When the company that owns the one program you've devoted your time to decides to make some drastic development changes that rub you the wrong way, you can easily shift gears and rely on another program that gets the job done.

So if you're just starting out and need a program to learn, don't spend a lot of time choosing, just choose the one closest to you. Then when you've gotten familiar with it, move on to the next one. You'll thank your past self for it someday.

Wiping the dust off this filmmaker's blog

Where did all these cobwebs come from? I thought I closed this place up good when I last left it. So I've been a bit absent from the posts lately, but that is all going to be fixed. Starting right now.

Some of you may be wondering what I've been up to lately. Others may just be wondering what it is that I do...period. How about I answer these with a quick update activity here.

- - -

First of all, if you follow my comings-and-goings you may have known that last November I was in Seattle on the set of The Gamers: Hands of Fate serving as both co-director of photography (there were 3 of us for 3 separate segments of the film) and visual effects supervisor for the "epic" portions of the shoot (Hint: #00FF00 has a large part of it). Now the film is steeped in post-production goodness. Over the course of the next few months, I'll be working on compositing green-screen footage against some lovely backgrounds provided by the post-production's digital matte painter.

As with most projects, I have approached the directors and producers with the idea of putting together behind-the-scenes material of the visual effects work and they were receptive to it, so hopefully you can expect to see that. But, as always, they have the final say if they don't want anything released until the film is completed and screened. Always have to be wary of spoilers. But here's the teaser trailer cut with footage from GenCon last summer.


- - -

In the meantime, there is a project that I'm a part of that you can see. As in right now. The web series Versus Valerie has launched and hit the interwebs with the force of a thousand suns! It follows the character Valerie Lapomme (whom you may or may not know as Sexy Nerd Girl from her ongoing vlog). This is a narrative story showing her life outside of the bedroom (mind out of the gutter, folks) and how she deals with her many day-to-day challenges with the odd escape into her imagination to help. Episode 1 launched on March 7th and a new episode is released every other week, each one styled on a different nerd sub-genre (eg. Star Wars, Star Trek, FPS shooters, etc.). I've been working in the visual effects department on Versus Valerie along with another vfx artist, Davin Lengyel. One of the areas you can see my work in are the title sequences for each episode.

Here's a breakdown of the first episode's title sequence. The episode itself was styled off of the BBC series Sherlock, hence the look of the title sequence here.


- - -

One other role that I just recently took on was picking up editing for the comedy series, The Gate. This series was produced with a team of Toronto web series creators including Elize Morgan (Pretty in Geek), Jason Leaver (Out with Dad), Ash Catherwood (Microwave Porn) and Fraser Mills. The series follows St. Peter at the pearly gates of Heaven and the different characters he runs into. All of the episodes released to date were edited by Jason Leaver, but he's become busy with other production work and has made the decision to hand it over to someone else. Any fan of the Toronto web series scene would recognize that these folk are pretty much like The Expendables of web series around here, so just to be working on a project with them involved is a big honour for me.

Watch the first episode here and keep posted for when new ones will be released.


- - -

That's it for now...wow, I'm going to be pretty busy for a while. What are you working on?

To receive updates on my work, follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page. Them's be where I post images and videos regularly.