Thursday, 19 July, 2007

Editing on the cheap

As part of supervising the film DI process at a post facility I often visit editing suites all over Mumbai, where film edits are done. And I can't help thinking that editing systems - especially those used for editing feature films - are getting more and more 'on the cheap'.

Time was when - only a few years ago - if you wanted to set up a film edit suite, you had to get an Avid Media Composer. Avid charged a lot of money for those systems, but for the money they really gave you the goodies. Money's worth.

Large 20 in. monitors - NEC or Mitsubishi, the best. Good quality speakers. Fast and reliable Avid SCSI drives, and the latest fastest Mac with loads of RAM and a huge internal disk. You had to get all of this from them.

Then came the Media Composer ABVB systems. And the 'cheaping out' began. You could chose your monitor so many people got the cheapest TVM or ACI 14in monitors. some noname computer speakers or even a cheap amp and speakers, and 'assembled' beige SCSI cases with ugly ribbon cables.

FCP came along and the cheaping get worse and today its gotten really really low. FCP meant for the first time you could buy the Mac of your choice, start with the least amount of RAM and after the first few slow-downs add a gig or two. Few people even pirated FCP.

They got the cheapest monitors, because Cinema displays were so expensive. And for disks, bargained with the Lamington Road types and got the one that was just a thousand Rupees cheaper.

So I go to these dingy little 'editing rooms' all over Andheri.

Bad stinking chairs. Low light. Airconditioners that are noisy or uncool. Plywood walls. Tables of the wrong height and cluttered with no place for keyboards. Keyboards with no key caps. Cheap Logitech (or worse) mouses... and so on.
Software thats mismatched. Old versions of MacOSX sometimes incompatible with FCP versions. BM or Kona drivers with not recommended Quicktime versions. I mean updates don't cost money, do they?

So basically the freedom to choose your system specs and peripherals has been abused to the limit. This is manifest as EDLs that don't work, edits that hang the machine just playing them back, corrupt projects - a nightmare for DI.
The cheapening has also meant hiring the cheapest inexperienced machine-room-guy turned editor.

Avid systems are no better. Because of the initial cost many are still using old WinNT versions with no working USB or Firewire ports so taking out edits for reference means compulsarily doing BetaSP layoffs. On old Beta VTRs that have troubling recording a tracking free picture for feature length movies. Sound may or may not record to both channels. Timecode may or may not be consistent. Even Adrenaline systems 2 or more years old are no better.

Editors who work on these old systems are young in age but old in thought. They don't trust Quicktime movies, have no clue on image and video file formats haven't bothered to read up about Firewire or USB drives. But they are 25-30 years old and use the latest mobile phones.

But things will come full circle. And some new directors and editors are now seeing the value in getting systems up to spec for trouble-free edit finishing. And hiring assistants who are themselves up to speed on new technologies and formats.

For anyone who feels the same way I'm willing to throw my hat in the ring and set up, and even rent out systems that are up there and can guarantee you editing in peace. If you can get a clean decent place, I can give you the system to match. Any takers?


  1. Jabeen Merchant11:14 PM

    When you talk of dirty, cramped rooms with buttons falling off the equipment, I'm reminded of (shudder) those dark days of hi-band editing. Nothing we have now can be as bad as that.

    The first time I worked on an Avid, the hardware, as you say, was brand new and top of the line. But it was so expensive, and the hard disks had so little space that we worked on AVR1 resolution most of the time. Now with the FCP and DV equipment, at least I can see clearly what I'm cutting. I'd say cheap isn't bad if one knows what can work and where to stop.

    I agree with you, on the whole it's stupid to cut costs on equipment, because then you end up paying in other, more painful ways. But there is an entire chain which needs to be upgraded, it doesn't help to only have a good editing system. Recently, I worked on a pretty well set up computer to edit a feature. But the telecine logs came to me on a floppy disc, that too, with some keycode information missing because the machine was too old to read the numbers off new Kodak stock. And at the other end, while I gave the sound guys perfectly good quicktime movies at 24fps for the track laying, I was informed that the big, fancy mixing studio only operated with beta tapes.


  2. About telecine logs. You can ask for them to be sent on CD, or USB stick. For the last feature I worked on, I had the lab send me logs via e-mail with every batch.

    Also about keycode with letters replaced by "?". That happens because the film manufacturer doesn't send updates to the company making the keycode reading system. And the company implements it in software late. its not about outdated sotware, just not updated databases.

    The stock manufacturer is usually responsible, not the post house that does telecine.

  3. Rahul Bose2:11 AM

    The real problem is when novices start using computers and think they are editing.

    If like me you edited your movies on a flatbed editing machine, a Steenbeck or a KEM you would not face any of these issues. Keycode, USB, Beta SP, FCP, what is this world of acronyms and coded language you guys live in.

    If you are making films, like I do, then edit on film.
    And make it 35mm.


    Namaste. Peace Out.

  4. Jabeen Merchant5:11 PM

    Hey Rahul,

    Keycodes are printed on the negative. Nobody can edit on film without those. Though I must confess I don't know what a KEM is, which you seem to.
    So much for acronyms and coded language :-)

    My basic training is with 35mm negative and positive, and it has been a wrench to leave that behind. But it simply is not possible to live in the world of tape splicers and Steenbecks any longer.

    Using a computer is trivial. The thing is, an editor (or film-maker) must know what exact end result s/he wants to achieve. New tech is then just a question of learning which button to press.


    I did ask for the telecine log on a cd. Was informed that they didn't have a cd burner connected to their machine. But I never thought of using a pen drive. Thanks for that tip.

    As for the "?" problem, if the entire film is going digital and the negative is not to be cut, then one uses beta timecodes anyway, so I suppose it doesn't matter too much.



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