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Chapter Four. Preparing to Edit > The Assistant Editor's Guide to Final Cut Pro

The Assistant Editor's Guide to Final Cut Pro

Typically, editors start out as assistant editors—and it's assistant editors who do most of the work of getting the raw footage into, and the final program out of, the editing system. If you're going to be working as an assistant editor on a Final Cut Pro project, you'll need to learn every detail in this chapter top to bottom.

If you are a high-powered editor who always has an assistant by your side, you can just rip this chapter out of the book and hand it over to him. But if you're a one-woman or a one-man show, and you are your own assistant editor (as is the case with many Final Cut Pro editors), you need to read this chapter yourself. Now.

Log It or Lose It

Editing begins with logging: the process of cataloguing your footage and preparing your original source tapes for capture.

CAPTURE Transferring audio and video from your original videotapes to your computer's hard disk.

Logging is the first time you get to review your footage. This is when you'll make your first set of decisions about what stays in and what gets tossed out of your show. If you think of editing as a process of eliminating all but the most essential frames, then logging is the first and coarsest pass. This is where you can eliminate aborted takes, wasted tape before and after the action of the take, and any shots or scenes that just don't work in the show.

Why Bother?

Logging can be tedious. Typically, it takes between two and three times as long as the running time of the footage you're logging. That doesn't include the actual capturing time, either, which takes an additional 1.2 to 1.5 times the length of the footage. For instance, we shot roughly 60 hours of footage for Want. Logging it took about 150 hours. Capturing it took another 75 hours.

Because logging involves looking at (and eliminating) a lot of the junk, it may feel like a waste of your time—and it's common to let an assistant editor complete the process. This has advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that by dividing the work, you can get it done faster; you can begin editing logged scenes while additional footage is still being catalogued.

The disadvantage is that you lose a great opportunity to get better acquainted with your footage. Familiarity with every frame of your film is one of the keys to good editing. The more times you view your footage, the better. That minute of “garbage” recorded when the camera operator was rolling out the tape might hold the key to a problematic transition or sequence somewhere else in the film.

ROLLING OUT THE TAPE To make sure they don't run out of tape in the middle of a shot, videographers commonly swap a new tape into the camera two to five minutes before the current tape runs out. However, since editing software like Final Cut Pro requires at least three to five seconds of recorded footage after the last Out point, it's good practice to record a few moments of “junk” after the last shot on the tape so the very last recorded frames aren't ones you intend to use. Filming that junk is called rolling out the tape.

One nice thing about logging is that you don't have to do it in the studio. Since you aren't actually capturing footage yet, you don't need access to the hard disk space required for your editing station. You can log footage on a laptop, on an airplane, or at the beach (Figure 4.1).

Figure 4.1. Does anyone really bring his laptop to the beach?

Collect All the Information You Can

The more information you collect during the logging process, the easier your job will be when you sit down to edit the film. Final Cut Pro is designed to help you compile a great deal of information while logging and recall it efficiently during the editing process.

What Information Should You Collect?

Ask yourself: What kind of information will help you recall the contents of a clip six months from now?

Start with the categories described in Chapter 2 (“Film Language”). Who or what is the subject of the shot? What is the shot type (CU, MS, LS)? Is it a moving shot? How long does it run? What scene is the shot associated with? When was it shot? What take number is it? Is there anything technically wrong with it (focus problems, audio noise, lens flares, and so on)? What were the director's comments about the shot? If you like, you can even include a transcription of the shot's dialogue.

Different footage requires different kinds of logging information. For instance, footage for a dramatic show typically needs the scene and take number, any comments the director made on the set, and any problems recorded at the time of production (such as the sound of an airplane flying by). A short description of the shot might be nice, but if the editor is working from storyboards or a detailed shot list, it may be unnecessary. B-roll footage from a documentary might benefit from much more detailed descriptions of the shots, but information like a take number wouldn't apply.


Avoid cryptic descriptions or abbreviations when logging footage. This kind of shorthand can be especially awkward if an assistant is logging footage that the editor hasn't seen. If the editor has to spend hours scouring through the original footage before she can figure out that “L-CTrkTrukDrvTckt_03” means “Long shot to close-up tracking shot of truck driver getting a ticket, take 3,” the assistant who came up with the clever abbreviation isn't likely to be working for that editor again.

Unfortunately, Final Cut Pro and the Mac Classic OS both limit the length of filenames, so some abbreviation is inevitable. But you have lots of comment fields and description columns to use in addition to the clip name.

Check the Camera Log

Hopefully, you have access to a camera log or continuity report that identifies exactly what was recorded on the tape: timecode numbers, shot names or numbers, take numbers, and some comments about each shot. The log may include additional information as well, such as the focal length and exposure setting of the camera (useful if something needs to be reshot). Transfer all of these details into Final Cut Pro.

CONTINUITY REPORT Similar to a camera log, this report is made during production and lists every shot and every take in the order in which they appear on the tape. It focuses on continuity elements within the shots: props, costumes, makeup, gestures, and blocking.

You may also have access to a shot list, a breakdown of how a scene is supposed to be filmed, shot by shot. Though some crews may deviate from the plan, this is still valuable information to have.

These documents are the only clues you'll get to understanding what is on the tapes—aside from information gathered via your eyes and ears.

Log It All

I strongly recommend cataloguing every inch of tape on your source reels. You don't have to capture it all; in fact, if you have limited disk space (and who doesn't?), you won't want to capture more than you absolutely need. But you should log all of it. You never know what you'll want to use.

For instance, if you logged only the circle takes of a particular scene, and it later turns out that one of those shots is problematic, going back to find another take will mean relogging the tape. Since you don't want to have to log a tape more than once, do yourself a favor and log everything the first time.

CIRCLE TAKES At the end of the shooting day (or the next morning), the crew usually gathers to watch the dailies. The director will identify the takes she prefers, and an assistant will circle her choices in the camera log. (In the old days, economy dictated that only the circled takes would be printed onto film for editing.)

You should even log the junk between takes. If you look at the clip list later, you should be able to account for every minute on the tape.

For instance, let's say at some point the camera was accidentally turned on between two shots, wasting two minutes of tape. Obviously, the editor won't be using this footage, but if months later he's looking at the takes from that particular scene and discovers a two-minute gap in the timecode, he may suspect that a take or shot is missing—and send you back to the source tapes to check it out. If you logged that segment of tape as a garbage shot in the first place, you'll be able to avoid wasting everyone's time.

DAILIES To make sure that the scenes have been photographed successfully, each day's work is reviewed either at the end of a day or the next morning (to allow some sleep after a long or late shooting day or, if you're shooting on film, to give the lab time to print the film). These screenings are called rushes or dailies.

Scenes, Shots, and Takes

The terms “scene,” “shot,” and “take” can be confusing when you're new to filmmaking. Let's see if we can straighten out the jargon.

In the most generic sense, scene refers to an edited series of shots of related events taking place in a single location—for instance, “the bank robbery scene.” During production, a scene is usually identified by a number based on the order in which it appears in the script or occasionally by the order in which it is shot.

Shot refers to each of the individual camera angles used in the scene. Every time the camera frames a different angle or image of the events being filmed, it is a new shot.

Take refers to a single iteration of any given shot—take 1, take 2, and so on.

To further confuse matters, most Hollywood productions identify shots by referring to the scene number. For example, successive shots in scene 5 would be called scene 5a, 5b, 5c, and so on. Furthermore, takes are sometimes referred to as shots. This is why a typical film slate has only two blank slots: one for a scene number (which is actually the shot name) and another for a take number (Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.2. A typical slate has one slot for the scene number and one for the take number, and that's that.

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