What we learnt from the editor/software face-off at NAB

Let’s start by saying we’re working with a very specific type of video production: trade-show style video where there is an A-roll interview and limited b-roll that goes specifically with the A-roll. These are generally shot on a trade-show booth with shots of product from the booth.

Finisher was originally conceived as the book-end to First Cuts. First Cuts will save documentarians many weeks of work getting to first cuts, with the ability to create first cuts almost instantly while you explore the stories in the footage you have. These cuts are complete with story arc and b-roll. We worked on the assumption that an editor would probably delete the b-roll while they worked on cutting the a-roll into the finished form. (Although not necessarily: I cut one piece while keeping the b-roll around to save me having to go find it again.)

Finisher was suggested by Loren Miller of Keyguides fame who wanted an “editing valet” that would take his a-roll and add b-roll and lower third back in. That suggestion became Finisher.

However, I’ve been long interested in the application to these trade-show type edits that had never been near First Cuts and had to use much simplified metadata. My gut told me that an experienced editor would be faster but the cost effectiveness of a novice with Finisher would be compelling.

I was wrong. As it turned out, I ended up being the editing contender. I was happy about that because I trust my abilities – I’m fast and effective at this type of video. Up against me was the software’s co-developer, Greg Clarke. Greg’s first FCP lessons (other than import XML, export XML, open a Sequence) were on Sunday afternoon ahead of a Tuesday afternoon shootout. To say his editing skills and FCP skills were rudimentary is a huge understatement!

Greg had his edit complete in 27 minutes from being presented with raw footage. (Both competitors saw the footage together in raw form in a new project.) This video shows the Greg + Finisher cut. It’s acceptable but could definitely use an experienced eye.

My cut took 40 minutes to add in lower third and all the b-roll. There is a third cut, which is where I took the Greg + Finisher cut and added my editorial experience to that, which took an additional 11 minutes, for a total of 38 minutes. Yep, almost exactly the same time to get to a finished result.

Until you work on the cost side of the equation. Let’s assume that an experienced editor is going to work for $45 an hour for this type of work. (That’s approximately the Editor’s Guild rate for an assistant on a low budget documentary.) Let’s also assume that we’re paying Interns $15 an hour.

Rounding to nearest quarter hours for easy math, my cut was $33.75 to the producer; the basic Finisher cut would be $7.50 and the Finisher plus novice with editor tidy-up (however you would write that elegantly) would add another $7.50 of craft editor on top of the cost of the Intern cut.

Under half price.

Scaling production

Here’s where it gets exciting (for me anyway – I am easily excited). The Digital Cinema Society and Studio Daily produced some forty videos during NAB 2009 with the talented Chris Knell editing. Let’s assume that Chris got paid the hourly rate he should have and worked 10 hour days (with breaks) to get forty videos done within the week. By rights he should have been paid in the order of $1800 for that time.

One craft editor can tidy and clean four videos an hour (five based on my numbers, but let’s say four). Each video will take an Intern about 30 minutes to prepare a video for the craft editor. We need two Interns to feed the skilled craft editor four videos an hour. (2 Interns producing two cuts with Finisher per hour). Now 10 videos can be produced in 2.5 hours instead of 10 (getting them to the audience faster).

Faster and cheaper: Cost per day is 2.5 x 45 = $112.50 plus 2 x 2.5 x 15 = $75 for a daily total of $187.50. For the four days the editor also gets to enjoy NAB – show or hospitality – and the total cost to the producer is $750, not $1800. The massive reduction in time means that one crew could shoot and edit without damaging their personal health.

So, what I learnt at the Face-off is that Finisher is a tool I can use as an editor (more on that shortly); it helps scale large volume production to get results out faster; and it can substantially reduce the cost of the mass production of these types of video. It was not only Studio Daily producing forty videos but FreshDV, Mac Video and  MacBreak were also producing video and could have achieved similar savings.

Analysis

Both approaches required logging the material. During the Face-off we both trimmed or subclipped our b-roll to individual shots. (Here’s a tip we both used: drop the b-roll clip or clips in a Sequence and add edits, deleting bad sections of b-roll as you go, then convert to independent clips and name something appropriate. Finisher will use the name as metadata).

We also trimmed up our A-roll adding Markers as we went. For Finisher the Markers were added to Sequence Markers and given a duration that the novice wanted to cover with b-roll. I was placing Markers into the A-roll clip – so they would move when I cut the clip – so I could locate where b-roll shots would go based on topic.

What I learnt was that, if I adopted the convention from Finisher and basically added comments to my Markers that matched clip names, I could automate the process of laying in clips to the Timeline – 2 minutes for the Finisher round trip vs 10 or so to do it manually. It’s basically an automation tool.

Plus, as an editor I’d be closer to being finished as I’d place my Markers a heck of a lot better than a novice does/did.

But it’s really in the scaling and cost reduction for mass production that came as a surprise – a pleasant one.

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