Switching Horses Midstream – Stupidity or the Mother of Invention?

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Most people will tell you that it’s insanity to change machines and editing platforms in the middle of a feature film project, right?  But that’s exactly what I just did.  And I think it’s going to make all the difference.

I’ve been editing the film on a Mac Book Pro that I bought in 2009 or 2010.  It was a state-of-the-art machine at the time, with a 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4 GB of RAM.  I was running Final Cut Studio 3, which includes Final Cut Pro 7.  But Multi-Cam never actually worked (which is a pain when you have up to four cameras per aircraft) and the spinning beach ball of death (“SBBOD”) or the slowly-crawling render bar spent more time on my screen than is conducive to the creative process.

So I finally decided to drop money I don’t have on a new setup.  And it turns out to have been more than worth it.  The new rig is the current state-of-the-art Mac Book Pro with a 15″ Retina display, additional NVIDIA processing to handle it, 2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 with Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz, 16GB of 1600MHz memory, and 512GB of PCIe-based flash storage.  It screams as fast as any Mac Book available without Frankenstein mods.

Will Hawkins, the jerk that make me think that I could make a movie in the first place (love you, man!), talked me into getting Adobe Premiere CS6 and migrating to it from FCP 7.  He explained that one can export FCP projects as XML files and then import them with Premiere and that the process is pretty straightforward.  It turns out that he was on the mark as far as I can tell.  The lead image for this post shows one of the flight sequences in FCP 7 on the top and the same sequence in Adobe Premiere on the bottom.  It took me 30 seconds to export the XML from FCP and another 60 seconds to import the sequence into Adobe Premiere.  Nice.

The translation isn’t exact.  But it’s not different in any materially adverse way that I’ve discovered yet.  And I can always go out to Cali and beat Will’s head in with one his own heathen tiki gods if I find out later that there’s some massive discontinuity that I’ve missed.

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Perhaps the biggest advantage of Adobe Premiere is that it displays widely differing video files (MOV from the big cameras, M4V from the GoPros, etc.) without any need to render first.  I can even flip the video from the Pitts hand-hold camera 180 degrees and Premiere just displays it that way – no rendering required.  This is especially important when you’re trying to align someone’s lips with the cockpit audio track and you need smooth video to do it and you don’t want to wait 20 minutes to render enough of it to start making intelligent guesses.  (And then render more of it when you guessed wrong.)  Even if there are discontinuities and I have to develop different workflows, the time that I save rendering and the maintenance of creative momentum might save Will.  And his heathen tiki god.

So here’s what’s up going forward.  I’ve already made XML files out of all of the sequences that I think I’m going to need and tried out a few.  Next, I’ll probably put together a few clips to toss out on Facebook and otherwise so people can see that stuff is moving forward.  After that, I’ll import all of the other sequences and begin putting together pieces of the movie.

AC Logs

Concurrently with that last piece, I need to reserve a weekend and take over the board room at the office and spread out all of the film logs and make some decisions about larger sequences, the overall organization of the film, and what’s going to go where.  I can also start writing some of the narration and figure out what connective tissue I’m going to need.

The new hardware and software were a bullet that I didn’t want to have to bite, but I can already see that they’re essential to the way forward.  Being able to play with the sequences will be essential going forward and I have the tools to really move forward with that process.


Head-Down and Editing

Steve checks in . . .

The holidays are over.  The tax year is over.  The December deal-rush at the office is over.  Time to go head-down again on the film!

Sequences are beginning to come together.  And I’m reviewing some of the older sequences and realizing that I’m going to need to cut rather savagely to keep the pacing.  During principal photography, every moment looked precious in the viewfinder.  And, frankly, most of them were.  But I’m supposed to be more pro now and really boil down the story to its essence so we get a movie that even non-pilots will like.

It’s kind of interesting, having watched a lot of documentaries over the last couple of years and begun to develop my own sensibilities about pacing and other elements.  I purposely watched a number of documentaries about topics in which I was only tangentially interested to try to get a sense of how someone outside the core audience would feel about the edit.  I watched Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine (chess) this weekend and, earlier this year, stuff like Special When Lit (pinball) , Big Rig (truckers), and Indie Game (video game developers).  Game Over was way too slow and discontinuous.  Big Rig didn’t do anything to make me care about the drivers.  Indie Game was great because it was well-paced and I cared about the protagonists, even though I don’t give a hoot about video games.

I need to cut.  But this is the fun part.  And I’m having fun.  It’ll get hard again soon, I’m sure, but I’m actually stitching stuff together that’s really beginning to look like a movie and I can see where it’s going.


Quick update on the Studio 360 thing.  If you listen to the show that aired this past weekend (featuring Culture Shock 1913), the teaser for next week says that the show will feature some of those who have a project to complete in 2013.  The teaser has audio snippets from some of those who called in to talk about their projects.  The last voice?  The one that says “. . . and I’m resolving to get it done in 2013?”  That’s your humble producer/director/editor/bottle-washer!  It’s from the pitch that I made a week or so ago.  No idea whether the show will include anything about Acro Camp.  It seems like the featured folks would be interviewed, the show drops on Friday, and I haven’t received a call.  But who knows?  I really respect the show and it even inspired me to make a run at a MacDowell fellowship.  Any mention – a piece of the recorded pitch, an interview, whatever – would be great.  And no mention at all is also fine.  But it’s perfectly fine to be as pumped as I am to have spent two seconds in the ears of the Studio 360 audience.    Fanboy?  Yeah, I admit it.