From the Trenches

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Not all editing is done in comfy edit suites with powerful workstations. Many film editors cut on location for part of the film. Plenty of other editors make their living on the corporate circuit cutting convention and conference highlights, “happy faces” videos, and recaps for social media. If you are one of the latter group, much of your work is done in hotel rooms, ad hoc media centers set up in conference rooms, and/or backstage in the bowels of some convention center. Your gigs bounce between major cities and resorts around the country and sometimes the world. Learning to travel light, but without compromise is important.

I work a number of these events each year. In the past, the set-up was usually a full-blown Avid Media Composer system and decks – often augmented by a rack of VHS decks for dubs on-site. Today, more often than not, a laptop with accessories will do the trick. Media is all file-based and final copies get delivered on USB thumb drives or straight to the web. The following road warrior tips will help any editor who has to cut on the run.

Nail down the deal. Before you commit, find out who is supplying the  gear. If you are expected to bring editing gear, then define the rate and what is expected of you. Most of these gigs are on a 10-hour day-rate, but define the call and end times. If the camera crew gets an early start, your call time (and the start of 10 hours) might not be until noon. Make sure you know who is covering meals and how the expenses are being handled (air fare, hotels, car rental, per diem, mileage, parking, etc.).

Which NLE to use. This is often a matter of personal preference, but on some jobs, one over the other becomes the client’s decision. A set-up with several editors working in collaboration is best handled using Avid Media Composer and Avid or Facilis shared storage. Live ingest and quick turnaround of the CEO’s keynote is also best handled with Avid Media Composer and Avid i/o hardware. When those are the criteria, odds are the production company will be supplying the gear. You just have to know how to use it. Apple Final Cut Pro X is great for a lot of the convention video work being done, but I’ve also had clients specify Adobe Premiere Pro, just so everything is compatible with their home operation or with the other editors on the same gig.

df2116_trench_4_smRemember that with Adobe Creative Cloud, the software needs to “phone home” monthly for continued authorization. This requires an internet connection to log-in. If, for some reason, you are going to be out of internet contact for more than a month, this could become an issue, because your software will kick into the trial mode. That may be sufficient to get you through the project, but maybe not.

Video standards. Before you start any editing, make sure everyone is on the same page. Typically video packages are going to be produced and finished as 1080p/29.97 or 1080p/23.976. However, if you are recutting the highlights from a large corporate keynote presentation, odds are this was recorded with broadcast cameras, meaning that the project will be 1080i/59.94. But don’t assume that a US conference is always going to be only using US TV standards. A large European company holding an event in the US might want to stay consistent with their other videos. Therefore, you might be working in 1080p/25. As with many things in life – don’t assume.

Mac versus PC. Inevitably you’ll run up against the compatibility issue of passing files and drives between Macs and PC. Maybe you are in a team of editors with mixed systems. Maybe you have a Mac, but the client is PC-based. Whatever the circumstance, know how you are going to exchange files. Some folks trust ExFAT-formatted drives to work cross-platform. On a recent job, only the PCs could mount the LaCie drives that were formatted as ExFAT, whereas Seagate drives were OK on both platforms. Go figure. My recommendation is to have all the Macs install Tuxera (to read NTFS drives) and have the PCs install MacDrive (to read HFS+).

Media drives. Speaking of drives, who is supplying the drives for the edit? Are you expected to bring them or use your internal drive? Is the client supplying drives and will they be compatible? If you are supplying the drives, you probably still need to factor in time to copy the media, projects and final masters back to the customer’s drive at the end of the job. All of this means connection compatibility is important. Newer Macs work with USB 3.0 (compatible with USB 2.0) and Thunderbolt 1 and 2. Most newer PC laptops generally only connect to USB devices, with a few that also support Thunderbolt and/or eSATA.

Unless you are all Mac-based, drives that connect via USB 3.0 will give you sufficient speed and will connect cross-platform. In you own a Mac with Thunderbolt, then it’s worthwhile to pick up a few adapters. For example, I have FireWire 800, Ethernet, DVI and VGA adapters and they’ve all been useful. In addition, my MacBook Pro will also connect via HDMI to external video and audio monitors.

df2116_trench_3_smCamera card readers. When it comes to media, card readers are another concern. Since post is largely file-based these days, you are going to have to be able to read the media and the files provided by the camera crew. As an editor, you can’t really be expected to provide a reader for every possible camera type. For instance, Canon C300 cameras record to CF cards, which will normally plug into most common, multi-card readers that plug in via USB. However, if the crew is using an ARRI Amira that records to CFast cards, then you’ll need a different reader. Same if they were using something that records to Pak, P2, SxS and other media types. Therefore, it’s best when the camera crew supplies a reader that matches their  camera. That’s something you need to get straight with the company hiring you before the gigs starts.

Peripherals. It’s helpful to bring along some extra goodies. In addition to a generic multi-card reader and Thunderbolt adapters, other useful items include extra USB sticks, a generic USB (or better yet, USB 3.0) hub adapter, and possibly a video i/o device. While most of the time you don’t need to capture live video or feed masters out to external recorders, there will be times where live capture or monitoring is required. When it isn’t, then cutting from your laptop screen is fine and playing it full screen for review will also work. However, if you do need to do this, then small i/o devices from Blackmagic Design or AJA are your best bet. If you want more screen real estate then Duet Display is an app to turn an iPad into a second desktop screen.

Audio. While video monitoring isn’t that tough with a 15” laptop – even for client review – audio monitoring is a different story. Unless you’re cutting in a quiet hotel room, odds are you are going to be in a noisy environment, like backstage. If you are working with a team of editors, the noise factor just went up – all of which means headphones are essential. If you like to travel as light as possible, then you might try to get by with ear buds, but those can be very uncomfortable if you wear them all day long – not to mention bad for your hearing. An alternative to consider might be in-ear monitors like the ones Fender now makes.

Ultimately it’s personal preference, until it’s time to work with the producer or review the cut with the client. For a two-person operation, you might consider bringing a Y-shaped headphone adapter and a second set of lightweight headphones. Obviously you aren’t going to want to share in-ear monitors the way you might a large-cup standard headphone.

When it comes time to review the cut with the client – often two or more people looking over your shoulder at the laptop screen – then headphones won’t work. You are stuck momentarily using the laptop’s sound system. In the case of Apple MacBook Pros, the max volume is completely unacceptable in professional use. At times I’ve brought small external powered speakers, but that’s extra weight and room. Another solution I’ve used, which has worked reasonably well, is a single small, battery-powered “boom box” style amplified speaker that connects via Bluetooth. It packs a lot of oomph in a tiny footprint. The only downside is that sync during playback from an NLE timeline is very rubbery at times, although most clients will excuse that when it’s just for a quick review. With exported files, it’s fine.

df2116_trench_2_smDepending on the job, you might also need a microphone for scratch (or maybe even final) voice-over recordings. The Shure MOTIV series is worth considering. These mics are designed for the “iDevices”, but will also connect to Macs and PCs via USB. Another solution for down-and-dirty recordings would be a cheap webcast USB mic.

Graphics. Most editors are not very good graphic designers. We tend to work best when provided with templates and packaged branding elements. However, this means you as the editor have to be compatible with the client’s needs. For example, if the elements are supplied to you as editable After Effects or Photoshop files, then it’s essential that you have the latest version of those applications installed. For example, an old version of Photoshop or using Affinity Photo instead, won’t cut it. On a recent job, the client supplied lower third templates as animated Photoshop files. This worked like a champ and was yet another example of how Adobe Creative Cloud integration between applications is one of the best in the business. However, this only worked, because I was current on all of the Creative Cloud apps I had installed – and not just Premiere Pro CC.

Music. Try to make sure you are using licensed music that has been provided by the client. Corporate events are notorious for skirting around music licensing in the belief that, because it’s a closed conference, this is fine. Or that they are somehow covered under Fair Use guidelines (they aren’t). As an editor, you may not have control over this, but you should make sure to only use music that has been supplied to you by the client or purchased by the client from a stock music source during the course of the project.

Internet. Since many of these conference videos are intended for quick turnaround to the web, having a fast pipe to the internet is essential. Tying your edit machine to the center’s wifi isn’t going to be fast enough. A high quality 1080p MP4 that’s several minutes long will be several hundred MB in size. If you have several of these to upload each day, fast upload speeds are critical. Usually this means that the production company is going to have to pay for a dedicated line and ethernet cabling. This needs to be available past the point that the conference floor itself closes, since post will still be going on awhile longer. From the editor’s standpoint, this requires a machine that can accept an ethernet cable, which is getting harder to come by on both Mac and PC laptops. For the MacBook Pros, you can get a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter, which works flawlessly.

Schedule. Last, but not least, there’s the schedule. What can realistically be accomplished in the allotted time? Most corporate clients are not production people. They have no idea of what’s involved when they decide to interview and edit a given number of people in the course of a day. Even if the editor starts later, it still requires a producer to be involved in both the shoot and the edit. Realistically there should be a 50/50 ratio of shoot time to edit time. Naturally that’s not always possible, but this allows enough time to cut the piece, make tweaks, get approval, and then encode. On a fast laptop, the time required to encode high quality MP4 files is roughly the running time of the piece. Therefore, if you have an hour of total edited content, you’ll need to allow for at least an hour of encoding. Add to this upload time and the back-up to the client’s drives, and you have a rather packed schedule.

©2016 Oliver Peters