Life with the Editor

Posted: December 9th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: production | 3 Comments »

Here’s the place I’ve been spending a lot of time, lately: my video editor.

I edit using a program now called Sony Vegas; I am not a fan of Sony and their practices in the areas of copy protection and manipulation of law, but the fact remains that for the moment, Vegas is still an excellent program, the product of a group called Madison Software who created a number of excellent programs for sound and video before being absorbed a few years back. Sony has unfortunately made the software progressively hostile to anyone not using Sony equipment but generally has allowed the program to be what it always was: shockingly easy to use, slick to be creative in, and best of all, fast.

I generally don’t encourage people to edit like I do, but it works for me. I’ve read a lot on how various filmmakers have done movies and the fact is that everyone does things slightly differently, but for me, I have built this methodical process that takes a lot of time on the front end but then allows me very fast freedom at the end.

With over 120 hours of recorded interviews, it is cost prohibitive for me to keep all the footage around on drives. (It would take, roughly, 29 terabytes of disk space to keep it all “live”). There’s some great trickery out there where you make a much smaller version of footage, edit with THAT, and then at the end attach drives as you go to pull in all the stuff you need; I find that hopelessly cumbersome. So, instead I do something else cumbersome: I watch all the footage, and re-render out lossless clips with names indicating what the file contains. This is what’s in the upper corner of the screenshot. (You can also make out that I add rough ratings to clips like KEEPER, ABSOLUTE KEEPER and so on, just as a little note to myself down the line.)

After months of effort, I end up with about 4,000 clips, probably totalling 40-50 hours, out of the original 120 (the rest is setting up, me asking questions, answers where the answers is essentially “I don’t know”, and so on). From this I split them down further into groupings of discussion – I know, for example, that very little about a specific product will end up in another section about historical items far predating that object.

Somewhere in here is an undefinable quality, where I remember someone said something relevant, even though there’s no other indication they did in the description or the subject. Other times, I bump a bunch of people together saying the same thing, and then choose the best example. And even more fun are sequences where I can get 2-3 people discussing the same subject from different distinct angles. Those are fun to find and to watch.

If this sounds long and tedious, you’re half-right. It’s definitely long, but it’s never tedious. I love going through footage, remembering the journey to get that shot, the questions I asked, the meals and sights I saw on that trip. And when it just clicks up against another clip shot months or years apart, I just love watching things flow.

Again, my approach isn’t for everyone. But it works for me.

3 Comments on “Life with the Editor”

  1. 1 Johan Herrenberg said at 3:59 pm on December 9th, 2008:

    Sounds very methodical to me, though time-consuming. Can’t wait for the result…

  2. 2 Andrew Mudd said at 5:19 pm on December 12th, 2008:

    Offline editing with P2 footage is a pain. It’s way easier with tapes. P2 makes it so quick to get things into the editor, but it does make life considerably more difficult when dealing with things like offline editing, backing up, preservation, etc. I like tapes.

  3. 3 Jason Scott said at 8:10 am on December 13th, 2008:

    P2 footage is a pain, but endless tapes adds a massive cycle to getting recordings that P2 doesn’t have. The ability to do an instant, instant replay of material you just recorded and came back to is also legion. Also, P2 can record formats that tapes just can’t do. I agree preservation becomes more difficult, but then again every single bit of footage ends up having to go through a period of “preservation” when on tape, such that you then have to restore it before working with it. I can see both ways. Even with tapes, I record too much to put it all on a hard drive (BBS Documentary had 250 hours!).

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