Importance of Media Management

Although he doesn’t update often, I do always enjoy a post on Norman Hollyn’s blog, The Editor.  I was going over his archives a little while ago while my boyfriend rode – and I’m not kidding – a dragon skeleton roller coaster through hidden world 8-7 in Super Mario Bros. Wii, when I found a post that really should be shared with you all.  It concerns a skill that Hollyn is quite right in saying most independent editors don’t have: media management.  (I’ve seen some interesting systems working with some of my clients.)

What is media management?  I’ll let Hollyn describe it:

What is media management, you may ask? It’s the ability to organize all of the footage (whether it’s picture or sound, camera-shot or visual effects created, and more) in a way that makes it easy for anyone else to find and use it. That means that original material is sorted and saved in bins and folders in a very specific way for an assistant editor who is working on a show with a lot of visual effects, but entirely differently for the editor on that show. It means creating and executing a workable system that is appropriate to the personnel and the project that you are working on. A music video should be organized differently than a commercial, which is set up differently than an action film or a television show.

I highly recommend that anyone who isn’t familiar with media management to have a look at the article.  It’s a huge skill to have, and it makes any project you take on – for yourself or another – much easier to deal with.  I know I’ve talked about how I’ve organized Issues before.  Raw footage went into folders organized by episode.  Clips were labeled with Episode number, Scene number, Angle number, and Take number.  So the first Clip was labeled Ep1Sc1A1T1 (or something to that effect), and so on.  Because the scripts were labeled in the same fashion, anyone who picked up a script and looked for a clip could find it.  And they didn’t have to troll through hundreds of clips, because each episode has a folder.  If there had been an excessive number of takes, I would have made subfolders for each scene.

That is media management.  And let me tell you, when I migrate my files to a bigger hard drive, it makes it a hell of a lot easier to reconnect all that media next time I fire up a project.  Just a further incentive, beyond the ability to get an assistant editor’s job.  😉

Benefits of Silence when Editing

I know on my last audio-related post there was some debate over the value of editing with soundproof headphones.  Well, I went ahead and made my pair, using the guide I posted, and they work great.  And guess what?  I quickly found out that my audio on Issues, which sounded balanced on the computer, was in fact a bit too far to the right.  Seems my camera/sound man recorded the right channel a bit louder than the left.  I thought it was negligible, but it’s quite noticeable now.  And that will need to be fixed if we ever intend to put Season 1 onto a DVD.

So, while you should definitely preview your sound over the medium it’s going to primarily play through, it does help, in my opinion, to do some editing in a soundproof atmosphere with separate sound feeding to your right and left ears.  I couldn’t pick up the difference on my laptop speakers, or my desk speakers, which are pretty close together.  But isolate the right and left channels from the rest of the world, and you find a problem that would have absolutely ruined a DVD if it was played in a decent home theater system.

I love my home-made soundproof phones because the quality is good, they were dirt cheap, and as a passive system, they never need to be charged.  That means they can come with me anywhere, as long as I don’t mind people looking at me slightly oddly – they are a bit large since they cover the entire ear.

Another benefit to editing in that otherwise silent environment – I picked up on some background sounds that escaped my notice earlier, but would become distracting if I played with the sound level at all.  I’ll now know to clean those up moving forward with my re-edits.

Oh!  Keep your fingers crossed for me everyone!  We submitted Issues for the 2010 Streamy Awards, and the nominees are supposed to announced sometime in the next couple weeks.  The awards are in April.  I’m really hoping we receive a nomination somewhere!

Thoughts on Must-Carry

It appears I do these updates in batches.  I’ve been settling into my new semester, which has left me quiet of late, but I saw some news today I simply couldn’t ignore.

Cablevision, a cable provider serving the NY metro area, is seeking a Supreme Court hearing over must-carry laws.  If you’re unfamiliar with them, must-carry laws mandate that cable providers must carry local television channels.  The laws were created so cable wouldn’t destroy local network television.  Cablevision is arguing that competition is now significant enough that the networks should be able to survive on their own.  The case concerns a network trying to expand it’s coverage into new areas – which Cablevision opposes.  I’m not even sure I agree with it, but I do see the potential havoc that can be unleashed by a Supreme Court decision in favor of Cablevision.

Cable providers still enjoy de fact monopolies in some areas.  For example, here in Somerville, you can’t get Time Warner, Verizon or Comcast.  You’re choices for television are Cablevision or DirectTV for satellite.  My apartment building isn’t friendly towards satellite dishes, so my choices are Cablevision.  That’s it.  So if Cablevision doesn’t have to carry my local stations, where am I supposed to get them from?  Likewise, if you live in some parts of Manhattan, you have Time Warner, because they have control of that area.  So a supreme court decision that would drop must-carry laws could put local networks in jeopardy.

See, television is in trouble.  Their audience is leaving for the internet, and they’re having a hard time pulling in to ad dollars they used to.  Subscription models like HBO don’t use ads, but customers need to have a cable service hooked up to get them.  Cable providers and networks alike are looking for ways to cut costs.  That led to the retrans battles we saw between Time Warner and Fox as well as between Cablevision and Scripps Networks at the start of the year.  NBC and whoever exactly owns them at this point in time are facing pressure from local affiliate stations to get their act together and start delivering the ratings, and add dollars that follow them – which is what lead to the disaster that got Leno back in the Tonight Show and caused Conan to leave NBC.  Les Moonves at CBS has said that he would explore the idea of dropping affiliates and turning CBS into a cable channel instead.  All of these moves are efforts to bring in money, because the amount of money television is making is going down.

In Somerville, we’ve never really had local news.  Cablevision operates News12, which is unique to northern NJ, but that’s as local as we get, and if you don’t have Cablevision, you don’t have News12.  Most of the time local here means NYC local stations.  But if cable providers don’t have to carry local networks, would it keep News12 around or keep sending NYC news to Somerville?  And if they didn’t, how would a station start meeting that need for us?  We’re stuck with Cablevision’s service since there are no competitors here.

What about areas of the country that aren’t packed like sardines onto land like we are hear in the NY Metro area?  For them, local news may be based out of the next big city, or if they’re in that middle point, they may get networks from the nearest 2 major cities.  While I went to college in Ewing, NJ  I got both NYC and Philadelphia local stations.  It was wonderful.  But if cable providers don’t have to carry local television stations, will those areas keep getting local stations?  Or will cable providers instead seeek to reduce their costs by dropping the networks altogether?  It may not now, but I double television profits are going to drastically improve any time soon.  We may see brief spikes, but I’m convinced the trend is heading clearly down.  So once things get desperate, you can kiss your local stations goodbye.  They’d be the first things to go since they appeal to the smallest group of people.

So this ruling could fundamentally change the face of television.  I’m frankly worried, because this court seems far to friendly to large business considerations, and not friendly at all towards smaller interests, especially in the wake of last week’s campaign finance decision.  Let’s hope the Supreme Court gets this one right and makes sure our local stations are safe.

Creating an Editing Environment, Part 2

In this installment of Creating an Editing Environment, I’m going to focus on the area immediately surrounding the monitor you spend your working time staring at.  In particular, we’re going to talk about the colors in that environment.

Next time you’re in front of your editing machine (assuming it’s separate form the one you’re reading this on), look at the screen, but take note of what you see around it in your peripheral vision.  Is it nice and clean or is it full of stuff?  What color do you predominantly see?  To give you an idea, while I sit here typing these words, I see a lot of white (walls, paper, speakers), brown (desk surface), and some bright red of the mug that is sitting to my right holding pens & pencils.  This is a good example of what you shouldn’t see when you sit down to edit.

Just like you want to be sure you can hear your sound, you want to be sure you’re really seeing your picture.  To that end, you want a pretty uniform surface behind your monitor, and for it to be a neutral (like a medium grey).  Why?  If there are any bright colors within your field of vision while you sit at the monitor, it will affect, however slightly, the way your eye views that color.  If you’re editing, and especially if you’re color correcting, you don’t want anything to potentially skew your perception of that color.

In order to get a nice, neutral environment, you’re going to need a few things:

  1. A nice, clean desk, much unlike the one I described above.
  2. A wall painted a nice neutral shade of grey (or white or black, but grey is a personal preference of mine since it’s not on either extreme)
  3. Nice true white lights, such as LEDs.  As most of you are no doubt aware, typical household lights have a yellow cast to them, and fluorescents have a bluish cast.
  4. If you’re editing interface does not take up the entire monitor, make sure you have a nice neutral wallpaper selected as well.

And there you have it, a reasonably monotone environment which should allow you to focus on the color and content of the footage you’re working on.  Now, if you can’t paint your walls or install LEDs, just try to make the space as neutral as you can.  I’ll be back with more of Creating an Editing Environment soon!

Know the Basics, Part 2

It’s been a while since I hit on the Know the Basics series that I started with my first rule of cutting.  Now seemed like a good time to revisit it.  This rule usually has to be followed while a piece is in production, but depending on your footage, you could also influence this in post.  What am I talking about?  Why, the rule of thirds, of course.

Editing Rule #2: Use the rule of thirds to compose shots that are visually interesting and engaging.

If any of you have ever taken a photography class, you know the rule of thirds.  For those of you that haven’t, let me sum it up for you.  Shots with the subject perfectly in the center of your frame are boring.  They also don’t guide the audience’s eye to what you want or need them to see.  Rather than leave a subject in the dead center of the frame, picture the frame as divided up into 9 boxes, 3×3, like this:

See the green dots were the points of the box intersect?  Those are good focal points.  One of them is the place you want your subject.  If you have a good director and DP on your team, chances are some of your footage has already been shot using the rule of thirds.  If not, and you’re working with film or HD video, you may be able move and scale the picture to create a rule of thirds effect.  If you’re using standard definition video, this trick will degrade the footage noticeably, so it isn’t recommended.

How does it work?  Well, let’s say you have a shot of a girl sitting on the bed, looking to the right.  Unfortunately, she’s centered in the shot.  However, our footage is HD, so we have some room to play.  If she’s looking to the right, I’m going to shift this picture to the left, to emphasize the direction she is looking in.  The audience will look at her and their eyes will follow her line of site.  (For this to be effective, in the next shot, we should see what she is looking at, this time on the right side of the frame.)  What do I do about the picture, which is now partially in the frame, partially out?  I will scale it up enough to fill the frame again in it’s new location.  HD footage can be scaled up to about 30% of it’s original size with no apparent loss in quality anywhere but on an HD television.  The web and SD TVs are nice and forgiving of this trick.

If you need to get the hang of the rule of thirds a bit, try going out and taking some still pictures with your digital camera.  If it has a grid function to it, so much the better.  Even if it doesn’t, try this, take 2 pictures of some nice, stationary objects.  In one, center the picture.  In the other, move it to one of the four intersections on the real or imagined grid.  Make sure it’s a logical choice.  I may take a picture of a cup on a table throwing a shadow.  I would shoot the cup head on, and move it so you could see the shadow spilling across the frame.  Now, just as an experiment, ask some friends or family which picture looks more interesting.  On average, the pictures using the rule of thirds should be more popular than ones without.  If you want to see some existing examples of rule of thirds, do a Google image search for the terms.  You get a ton of examples.

Also, in watching movies, keep an eye open for the rule of thirds in action.  For example, in the first desert shot of Lawrence of Arabia, director David Lean filled the shot with tall sand dunes, and had Lawrence and his guide emerge over one in the upper right corner of the frame.  The shot was very wide, and the two riders and their camels were mere specs.  Their positioning made them seem even more small and insignificant.  That’s a good use of rule of thirds.

Creating an Editing Enviroment, Pt. 1

Despite what you may hear, you can’t just edit anywhere.  You may be able to throw a rough cut together just about anywhere you can set up your computer, but if you’re going to make that near-perfect final edit, you’d better have a space that will facilitate that work, and not make it more difficult.  Let’s start with the obvious: sound.

Hopefully while you’re editing, you’re adjusting sound levels as they need to be to ensure an even sound level from clip to clip.  However, if you’re sitting in your living room editing (like I need to) with someone watching television or listening to music, this can be a problem.  So my first tip for creating an ideal editing environment is to invest in a worthy pair of noise canceling headphones.  My tip, be as cost effective with them as you can.  Howcast.com has a video on how to make your own for about $20.  I’m seriously considering trying it myself.  A lot more affordable than the set of Shure headphones I’d been considering.

If rigging up your own isn’t your thing, there are two types of noise-cancelling headphones you can buy.

The first, and by any measure, more cost-effective option is passive isolating headphones.  These are the kinds of headphones that have comfy little silicone tips that sit in your ear.  The silicone makes a tight seal in your ear, effectively cutting out sound from the world around you.  With the proper type of tip and proper fit, these headphones can be very effective.

The second option will cost you a bit more.  These are the active isolators.  BOSE is the most well-known of the active isolators, with their very popular QuietComfort headphones.  These headphones sit on or over your ear and are powered by a battery.  The headphones study the sounds coming towards them from the outside world and emit the exact opposite frequency into your ear.  Those frequencies cancel each other out, and you hear nothing.

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a space at home or work that can be made completely silent, you may want to forgo the headphones and instead rig up to a good speaker system.  You’ll want to do this anyway for test screenings, but in the right setting, difficult as it may be to find if you don’t have a studio space open to you, they can be your primary means of sound.  I’ll be continuing this series in the future with more tips.  Keep posted.

Thoughts on Graduate Study

I’m in the midst of some very serious life decisions. As I’ve alluded to a few times on this blog, I currently attend graduate school. The serious life decision I’m debating is that of leaving my current school, and resuming study at a different facility after a healthy amount of time I need to get my personal and professional lives more on track. I’m lucky enough to work for the coolest company I can think of, and they were good enought to give me a promotion recently. Because of that promotion, I now work in Manhattan, which is looking like it will prompt a move to Queens or the Bronx in the spring. I have a great boyfriend and some wonderful friends who share my passion for producing content for the web. And we have a bunch of ideas developing.

And what I’m realizing now is that the graduate program I’m currently in doesn’t really contribute to those areas of my professional life. Which makes paying $10,000 a semester to attend said program feel slightly ridiculous. And while there is an MFA program at NYU I am very interested in, I don’t feel like I’m at the point, professionally, where that MFA makes sense. An MFA for me is a way to work on some projects with people who are just as passionate at me, and to gain the credentials to teach at the college/university level. I already have some passionate people to work on projects with, and I’m not ready to teach.

Graduate school is a big question for an editor or any other filmmaker. It’s an enormous investment to make, and you need to be sure that it will really benefit you. I entered my program thinking I could make it something it wasn’t. I’m realizing that now. I’m also learning that there is such a thing as having too much going on in life. And I’m accepting that adding to my student debt is not in line with the rest of my priorities right now. I’d rather work at bringing some of the truly fun projects I have the priviledge to work on to fruition. I’m petitioning for a leave of absence from my current program to really give myself time to make up my mind. More as it unfolds.