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The Future of Film Editing?

Jan. 2003

The Future of Film Editing?

By DigitalFilm Tree with Shawn and Rex

Back in August 2000, Guild editor Shawn Paper, director Rex Piano and post production supervisor Gary Adelman were beginning production on Angelic Entertainment's feature film "The Month of August" in San Diego. For digital editorial, they had all decided to budget money for an Avid rental.

Shawn stated that he had just purchased Final Cut Pro to play with at home. In turn, Digital Film Tree (DFT) counseled them on a postproduction workflow that they created that they were unfamiliar with. In a nutshell, it went something like this:

    • Transfer 35mm film dailies to DVCAM
    • Edit film dailies on Final Cut Pro and FilmLogic
    • With FilmLogic, deliver Keykode cut list to negative cutter and sound assembly EDL to sound house

The guys were collectively skeptical about this non-Avid approach, yet were very intrigued. At that time, DFT had successfully applied its workflow with many students and ultra low budget filmmakers. Many conversations about the pros and cons of this approach ensued. In the end, the guys, with Shawn at the helm, courageously decided to go with Final Cut Pro.

Fast-forwarding a year, "The Month of August" has been delivered to Angelic Entertainment and is making the rounds at festivals and prospective distributors. It is the first feature length film to follow DFT's postproduction workflow. In short, everything from the final negative cut to final sound mix worked perfectly and frame accurately. At the bottom of the page is a brief bio on the film.

Half way through editing, DFT chatted with Shawn and Rex about how things were going. We visited them at their edit suite, which happened to be in Shawn's converted' bedroom at his home in the Silver Lake Hills, California. Below are excerpts from our conversations.

Interview with Shawn Paper and Rex Piano

DFT: Working with just one editor who does everything, what is your general impression - right off the bat - of not having an assistant editor? We (DFT) have long maintained that a good assistant editor is critical.

Rex: When I did TV shows, I didn't really interact with an assistant, so I've always just worked with one editor. I don't know what an assistant does, really (laughing). So that is about it.

Shawn: What I've come to discover is that as the [NLE] systems get easier, and if you have a technical background or are an editor who has moved up the chain from being an assistant; even though it is a lot more work you can do editing and assisting and finish your show all by yourself. I haven't slept in about a week but I think my director is going to be happy.

Rex: Yeah, I am very happy with what we are getting here. By virtue of the fact that we're working out of Shawn's house, its just a nice comfortable place to work and we can cut as long as we want, we can go out and I don't feel the pressures when I am in a facility - that I have to be out by this time or that time and the food that you have to eat and all that stuff. So, I just like that we go out on the deck and smoke, drink a little bit, and the cut looks so much better, it's amazing (laughing).

DFT: That is too cool, to be able to have a drink and just kind of have a relaxed atmosphere.

Shawn: I try to provide from my home the benefits of a facility with the benefits of a bed, if you decided to stay all night cutting, and I don't want you to drive the next morning. We don't have a shutoff time, which is both good and bad. Once inspiration hits us, we do not have to worry about the keys to the cutting room.

Rex: The only thing that Shawn hasn't offered me is his girlfriend and I don't think she'd be happy anyway.

DFT: What kind of system do you have there?

Shawn: I built my own system from the ground up with some help from Dan Fort. It's a G4 450Mhz with 320MB of RAM. I got 140GB of SCSI hard drive space. I have got another 30GB of ATA and another 30GB FireWire drive that has worked fine with the Final Cut Pro 1.2.6 upgrade (knock on wood).

Shawn: We haven't had any problems with the media and I am storing about 20 hours of DV material that looks better than the Avids', going back AVR12. I think the director is very happy with what the image looks like on the screen and I can make minute changes and be able to see the image clearly, precisely. I hear with Quick Time 5, the next version of Final Cut Pro is going to look even better.

DFT: Do you want to say something about your film, so that people will know what you guys are doing. Like, what is it?

Rex: We are cutting this picture "The Month of August". A fun little romantic comedy - I do not want to sound like a pretentious a--hole, but I will - hopefully it kind of has a European / late 60's feel to it. We are doing some stuff with transitions that Final Cut Pro has enabled us to do; that Avid we were going to rent wouldn't. That is building multi-layered video images with complex matte moves and we can do them exactly as we want to see them, versus with an Avid. I'm used to cutting on old film where you have to deal with chalk lines. With this Final Cut Pro, we can do it frame accurately, change the sizes of the images how we want, you'll see one right now, and it's just really cool I think.

Shawn: Final Cut Pro can give us - with its After Effects style interface - a lot more agility to perform complex compositing that you can't do with other systems. With QuickTime and After Effects you can generate a lot more key frame specific motions that we cannot do on other systems. So, coming from an Avid background and having known these other programs, I've come in with a few hours of training and have been able to cut a scene. And in about three or four days I was proficient in cutting this film as quickly and with the agility of keyboard and mouse, left hand/right hand movement that I had been used to with years of Avid experience.

DFT: I like that shot right there, that's an awesome shot. [indicates shot of two girls in bikinis]

Shawn: It's a lot easier looking at this [full DV resolution] than a pixilated image for soooo many hours where I would loose my mind. I'm so happy with this DV codec, and being able to see something as pristine as this, and this is offline! It looks like AVR 75 or something that is a finish image on Avid. So, Final Cut Pro has allowed me to work more and with less eyestrain.

DFT: What are some of the downsides of Final Cut Pro?

Shawn: The trim command is not as precise as the Avid is. I am unable to do asynchronous cut points in the video / audio and slide it globally in the trim mode as I can in an Avid.

DFT: I love how editors talk.

Rex: Yeah, exactly, I didn't understand a word Shawn said.

Shawn: You know, like in trim mode I can slip shots, and easily find the different cut points and just say, I want to trim this side ten frames on track 2 and on track 1 I'd like to add four frames. I can't have two different tracks slide in relationship to itself and stay in sync, preview it and audition the cut and go back into cutting mode. It takes another two steps to do that.

Shawn: QuickTime doesn't have the ability to process two images at once without having to render it as some kind of file. It has a really sophisticated rendering engine that you can manage well. You can go in and say, alright I see all these render files, I'll just use my cache manager and just delete all of the files of dissolves in a sequence that are taking up space that I don't need anymore.

Shawn: On Avid, you have to go through media manager, open up the media tool, locate it and associate it to a hard disk somewhere on your system, hidden underneath your editing application, and delete the image and hope you didn't delete the wrong thing.

Shawn: I'm waiting for multi-processing power with Apple's OS X, or there are other cards like the Aurora Igniter or Digital Voodoo or Pinnacle Cine. They say that these developments will allow a lot more real-time rendering. When that happens it will be great because that will save us time. When you say all right, Shawn let's see what a two frame fade looks like as opposed to a three foot fade, I would simply slap it on there, rather than having to wait for render.

Rex: When we were talking about deciding to edit on Final Cut Pro or the Avid - a negotiation we were having - basically to get the effects that I wanted, we would have to get a top of the line Avid, which was going to be twice the weekly rental of this Final Cut Pro System and wouldn't look as good. I don't know anything about computers or anything, I just know what I see and say cut it here and do this, do that; and this looks a hell of a lot better than the stuff I cut on Avid. Like I said earlier, we can do all of these cool effects and see what they are going to look like finished, for a lot less money.

Story by Ramy Katrib
Workflow by DigitalFilm Tree

©2001 DigitalFilm Tree, LLC

"The Month of August"
Plot Summary:

A single-minded man focused on finding the girl of his dreams, the perfect vision he's created in his mind's eye. True love is right around the corner as long as he doesn't lose sight of what he's looking for. Nick is about to discover, true love can be found in the strangest of places... and in the strangest of girls.

About Digital Film Tree
For the past two years now, DigitalFilm Tree (DFT) has been mixing existing film and video systems with merging technologies like Final Cut Pro, FilmLogic, DVCAM and related technologies. It all started in 'our garage' on 3/11/00 when we successfully transferred film dailies directly to DVCAM, edited on Final Cut / FilmLogic, generated an accurate negative cut list, and then cut the negative flawlessly. Since then, we have engaged hundreds of editors, filmmakers, and institutions with our message and have gone on to serve over one hundred productions.
We have also attempted to elevate the curious debate between film vs. HD technology pundits and other warring camps. We say film good, HD good, DV good, all well. The idea is that filmmakers can work with the medium that suite them best. We can only hope that filmmakers are as passionate about the quality of their story as those who hark the demise of film.

This article first appeared on and is reprinted here with permission

copyright © Michael Horton 2000-2009 All rights reserved