NLE Tips – Timecode Banner

Every editor has to contend with client changes. The process has become more challenging over the years with fewer clients attending edit sessions in person. This is especially difficult in long-form projects where you often end up rearranging sections to change the flow of the narrative. 

Modern tools make it easier than ever to generate time-stamped transcripts directly from the audio itself. The client can then create “paper cuts” from these transcripts for the editor to follow. Online virtual editing tools exist to edit and export such revisions in an NLE-friendly format. Unfortunately clients prefer to work with tools they know, so often Word becomes the tool of choice instead of a virtual editor. This poses some editing challenges.

The following is an all-too-familiar scenario. You are editing down an hourlong conversation that was recorded as a linear discussion. You’ve edited the first pass (version 1) and created an AI-based, speech-to-text transcript from the dialogue track. This includes timecode stamps and speaker identification for the client. (Premiere Pro is an excellent tool to use.)

The client sends back a paper cut in the form of a Word document with recommended trims, sections to delete, and rearranged paragraphs that change the flow of the conversation. The printed time stamps stay associated with each paragraph, which enables you to find the source clips within the version 1 timeline. However, as you move paragraphs around and cut sections, these time stamps are no longer a valid reference. The sequence times have now changed with your edits.

The solution is simple. First, create a movie file with running timecode on black. The timecode format and start time should match that of the sequence. You may want to create several of these assets at different frame rates and store them for future use. For instance, a lot of my sequences are cut at 23.98fps with a starting timecode of 00:00:00:00. I created a ProRes Proxy “timecode banner” file that’s over an hour long, which is stored in a folder along with other useful assets, like countdowns, tone, color bars, etc.

Once you receive the client’s Word document, dupe the version 1 sequence to create a version 2 sequence. Import the timecode banner file into the project and drop it onto the topmost track of version 2. Crop the asset so you only see timecode over the rest of the picture. Since this is a rendered media asset and not a dynamic timecode plug-in applied to an adjustment layer, the numbers stay locked when you move the clip around.

As you navigate to each point in the edited transcript to move or remove sections, cut (“blade”) across all tracks to isolate those sections. Now rearrange as needed. The timecode banner clip will move with those sections, which will allow you to stay in tune with the client’s time stamps as listed on the transcript.

When done, you can compare the new version 2 sequence with the transcript and know that all the changes you made actually match the document. Then delete the timecode banner and get ready for the next round.

©2022 Oliver Peters