Creating TV style productions is a big operation. Lots of equipment, lots of people and lots of time. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is an entertainment company and the largest professional wrestling organization in the world. Since its inception, it has amassed a global audience of over 36 million.
Each year, WWE televises over 100 events via its SmackDown, WWE Raw and Pay-Per-View events. That doesn’t include the hundreds of arena shows that the organization books in venues around the world.
“Putting this show on in one day is no small feat. Our shows begins to load-in typically around 4:00am and everything must be up and ready for production by 2:00pm,” explained Nick Smith, WWE’s director of remote IT and broadcast engineering. “We travel everything from the lighting, PA, screens, backstage sets, television production facilities, generators and satellite transmission facilities, down to catering. Everyone [on our team] knows precisely what to do and how to get it done.”
Now the WWE is experimenting with a new format for the some 300 events it hosts that are currently not captured on video. The goal? To see if using Switcher Studio with a few iPhones and iPads can achieve TV-style results. A key part of testing has been defining workflow using mobile devices while meeting WWE’s high standard of quality. One of the first requirements was moving beyond the four-camera setup. As a result, the Switcher Studio team produced a special version of Switcher that allows unlimited sources. The only limitation is network bandwidth.
Adding more cameras was an untested challenge. To help prevent bottlenecks over the local network, we lowered the resolution and bitrate on preview video feeds. We also hardwired the primary iPad used for switching using Apple dongles. Using the “Director Mode” function in Switcher Studio. WWE then triggered a recording on all devices.
For the first test using Switcher Studio, the WWE had a director and operator at the main iPad. The video from the iPad was output to an external TV monitor using Apple’s AirPlay. This workflow allowed the director to see a live video feed from all sources. They were also able to talk with the camera crew and “direct” the operator when to cut to each camera.
The WWE crew had three camera operators from their TV productions to run iPhones in and around the ring. To ensure the devices had enough power to make it through the four-hour-long event, iPhones were attached to batteries. Meanwhile, two camera operators captured wide shots of the ring. Another camera operator captured performer entrances and crowd reaction shots.
WWE setup a local WiFi network for the event to wirelessly sync cameras. The operator made edits in realtime to generate a line cut. After the event the line cut and a ISO from each angle was sent to the WWE post team in the United Kingdom.
Moving forward, we plan to make further improvements to the post workflow. This will be especially helpful for editors, using tools like Adobe Premiere or Avid Media Composer.
If future tests prove successful, WWE could use this new mobile setup to provide more content to their fans–building new revenue streams along the way.
Nick Mattingly is the CEO/co-founder of Switcher Studio. He has over 10 years of experience in video streaming, online monetization and new technologies.
Bluefish444 was at NAB with Version 1.1 of its IngeSTore multichannel capture software, which is now available free from the Bluefish444 website. Compatible with all Bluefish444 video cards, IngeSTore captures multiple simultaneous channels of 3G/HD/SD-SDI to popular media files for archive, edit, encoding or analysis. IngeSTore improves efficiency in the digitization workflow by enabling multiple simultaneous recordings from VTRs, cameras and any other SDI source.
The new version of IngeSTore software also adds “Edit-While-Record” functionality and additional support for shared storage including Avid. Bluefish444 has partnered with Drastic Technologies to bring additional CODEC options to IngeSTore v1.1 including XDCAM, DNxHD, JPEG 2000, AVCi and more. Uncompressed, DV, DVCPro and DVCPro HD codecs will be made available free to Bluefish444 customers in the IngeSTore update.
The Edit-While-Record functionality allows editors access captured files while they are still being recorded to disk. Content creation tools such as Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro CC, and Assimilate Scratch can output SDI and HDMI with Bluefish444 video cards while IngeSTore is recording and the files are growing in size and length.
Frame.io, developers of the video review and collaboration platform for content creators, has unveiled Frame.io 2.0 , an upgrade offering over 100 new features and improvements. This new version features new client Review Pages, which expands content review and sharing. In addition, the new release offers deeper workflow integration with Final Cut Pro X and Avid Media Composer, plus a completely re-engineered player.
“Frame.io 2 is based on everything we’ve learned from our customers over the past two years and includes our most-requested features,” says Emery Wells, CEO of Frame.io.
Just as internal teams can collaborate using Frame.io’s comprehensive annotation and feedback tools, clients can now provide detailed feedback on projects with Review Pages, which is designed to make the sharing experience simple, with no log-in required.
Review Pages give clients the same commenting ability as collaborators, without exposing them to the full Frame.io interface. Settings are highly configurable to meet specific customer needs, including workflow controls (approvals), security (password protection, setting expiration date) and communication (including a personalized message for the client).
The Review Pages workflow simplifies the exchange of ideas, consolidating feedback in a succinct manner. For those using Adobe Premiere or After Effects, those thoughts flow directly into the timeline, where you can immediately take action and upload a new version. Client Review Pages are also now available in the Frame.io iOS app, allowing collaboration via iPhones and iPads.
Exporting and importing comments and annotations into Final Cut Pro X and Media Composer has gotten easier with the upgraded, free desktop companion app, which allows users to open downloaded comment files and bring them into the editor as markers. There is now no need to toggle between Frame.io and the NLE.
Users can also now copy and paste comments from one version to another. The information is exportable in a variety of formats, whether that’s a PDF containing a thumbnail, timecode, comment, annotation and completion status that can be shared and reviewed with the team or as a .csv or .xml file containing tons of additional data for further processing.
Also new to Frame.io 2.0 is a SMPTE-compliant source timecode display that works with both non-drop and drop-frame timecode. Users can now download proxies straight from Frame.io.
The Frame.io 2.0 player page now offers better navigation, efficiency and accountability. New “comment heads” allow artists to visually see who left a comment and where so they can quickly find and prioritize feedback on any given project. Users can also preview the next comment, saving them time when one comment affects another.
The new looping feature, targeting motion and VFX artists, lets users watch the same short clip on loop. You can even select a range within a clip to really dive in deep. Frame.io 2.0’s asset slider makes it easy to navigate between assets from the player page.
The new Frame.io 2.0 dashboard has been redesigned for speed and simplicity. Users can manage collaborators for any given project from the new collaborator panel, where adding an entire team to a project takes one click. A simple search in the project search bar makes it easy to bring up a project. The breadcrumb navigation bar tracks every move deeper into a sub-sub-subfolder, helping artists stay oriented when getting lost in their work. The new list view option with mini-scrub gives users the birds-eye view of everything happening in Frame.io 2.0.
Copying and moving assets between projects takes up no additional storage, even when users make thousands of copies of a clip or project. Frame.io 2.0 also now offers the ability to publish direct to Vimeo, with full control over publishing options, so pros can create the description and set privacy permissions, right then and there.
This Oscar-winning editor talks about his path, his process, Fences and Guardians of the Galaxy.
By Chris Visser
In the world of feature film editing, Hughes Winborne, ACE, has done it all. From cutting indie features (1996’s Sling Blade) to CG-heavy action blockbusters (2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy) to winning an Oscar (2005’s Crash), Winborne has run the proverbial gamut of impactful storytelling through editing.
His most recent film, the multiple-Oscar-nominated Fences, was an adaptation of the seminal August Wilson play. Denzel Washington, who starred alongside Viola Davis (who won an Oscar for her role), directed the film.
Winborne and I chatted recently about his work on Fences, his career and his brief foray into house painting before he caught the filmmaking bug. He edits on Avid Media Composer. Let’s find out more.
What led you to the path you are on now?
I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I went to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I graduated with a degree in history without a clue as to what I was going to do. I come from a family of attorneys, so because of an extreme lack of imagination, I thought I should do that. I became a paralegal and worked at North Carolina Legal Services for a bit. It didn’t take me long to realize that that wasn’t what I was meant to do, and I became a house painter.
A house painter?
I had my own house painting business for about three years with a couple of friends. The preamble to that is, I had always been a big movie fan. I went to the movies all the time in high school, but after college I started seeing between five and 10 a week. I didn’t even imagine working in the film business, because in Raleigh, that wasn’t really something that crossed my radar.
Then I saw an ad in the New York Times magazine for a six-week summer workshop at NYU. I took the course, moved to New York and set out to become a film editor. In the beginning, I did a lot of PA work for commercials and documentaries. Then I got an assistant editor job on a film called Girl From India.
What came next?
My father told me about a guy on the coast of North Carolina, A.B. Cooper, Jr., who wanted to make his own slasher film. I made him an offer: “If I get you an editor, can I be the assistant?” He said yes! About one-third of the way through the film, he fired the editor, and I took over that role. It was only my second film credit. I was never an assistant again, which is to the benefit of every editor that ever worked — I was terrible at it!
Where you able to make a living editing at that point?
Not as a picture editor, but I really started getting paid full-time for my editing when I started cutting industrials at AT&T. From there, I worked my way to 48 Hours. While I was there, they were kind enough to let me take on independent film projects for very little money, and they would hire me back after I did the job.
After a while, I moved to LA and started doing whatever I could get my hands on. I started with TV movies and gradually indie films, which really started for me with Sling Blade. Then, I worked my way into the studios after Crash. I’ve been kind of going back and forth ever since.
You mention your love of movies. What are the stories that inspire you? The ones that you get really excited to tell?
The movie that made me want to work in the film business was Barry Lyndon. Though it was not, by far, the film that got me started. I grew up on Truffaut. All his movies were just, for me, wonderful. It was a bit of a religion for me in those days; it gave me sustenance. I grew up on The Graduate. I grew up on Midnight Cowboy and Blow-Up.
I didn’t have a specific story I was interested in telling. I just knew that editing would be good for me. I like solitary jobs. I could never work on the set. It’s too crazy and social for me. I like being able to fiddle in the editing room and try things. The bottom line is, it’s fun. It can be a grind, and there can be a bit of pressure, but the best experiences I’ve had have been when I everybody on the show was having fun and working together. Films are made better when that collaboration is exploited to the limit.
Speaking of collaboration, how did that work on a film like Fences? What about working with actor/director Denzel Washington?
I’d worked with Denzel before [on The Great Debaters], so I kind of knew what he liked. They shot in Pittsburgh, but I didn’t go on location. There was no real collaboration the first six weeks but because I had worked with him before I had a sense of what he wanted.
I didn’t have to talk to him in order to put the film together because I could watch dailies — I could watch and listen to direction on camera and see how he liked to play the scenes. I put together the first cut on my own, which is typical, but in this case it was without almost any input. And my cut was really close. When Denzel came back, we concentrated in a few places on getting the performances the way he really wanted them, but I was probably 85 percent there. That’s not because I’m so great either, by the way, it’s because the actors were so great. Their performances were amazing, so I had a lot to choose from.
Can you talk about editing a film that was adapted from a play?
It was a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, so I wasn’t going to be taking anything out of it or moving anything around. All I had to do was concentrate on putting it together with strong performances — that’s a lot harder than it sounds. I’m working within these constraints where I can’t do anything, really. Not that I really wanted to. Have you seen the movie?
Yes, I loved it. It’s a movie I’ve been coming back to every day since I’ve seen it. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
Then you’ll remember that the first 45 minutes to an hour is like a machine gun. That’s intentional. That’s me, intentionally, not slowing it down. I could have, but the idea is — and this is what was tricky — the film is about rhythm. Editing is about rhythm anyway, but this film is like rhythm to the 50th degree.
There’s very little music in the film, and we didn’t temp with much music either. I remember when Marc Evans [president, Motion Picture Group, Paramount Pictures] saw this film, he said, “The language is the music.” That’s exactly right.
To me, the dialogue feels like a score. There’s a musicality to it, a certain beat and timbre where it’s leading the audience through the scene, pulling them into the emotion without even hearing what they’re saying. Like when Denzel’s talking machine gun fast and it’s all jovial, then Lyons comes in and everything slows down and becomes very tense, then the scene busts back open and it’s all happy and fun again.
Yeah. You can just quote yourself on that one. [Laughs] That’s a perfect summation of it.
Partially, that’s going to come from set, that’s the acting and the direction, but on some level you’re going to have to construct that. How conscious of that were you the entire time?
I was very conscious of it. Where it becomes a little bit dicey at times is, unlike a play, you can cut. In a play, you’re sitting in the audience and watching everybody on stage at the same time. In a film, you’re not. When you start cutting, now you’ve got a new rhythm that’s different from the stage. In so doing, you’ve got to maintain that rhythm. You can’t just be on Denzel the entire time or Viola. You need to move around, and you need to move around in a way that rhythmically stays in time with the language. That was hard. That’s what we worked on most of the time after Denzel came back. We spent a lot of time just trying to make the rhythms right.
I think that’s one of the most difficult jobs an editor has, is choosing when to show someone saying something and when to show someone’s reaction to the thing being said. One example is when Troy is telling the story of his father, and you stay on him the entire time.
The other side of that coin is when Troy reveals his secret to Rose and the reveal is on her. You see that emotion hit her and wash over her. When I was watching the movie, I thought, “That is the moment Viola Davis won an Oscar.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I agree.
I think that’s one of the most difficult jobs as an editor, knowing when to do what. Can you speak to that?
When I put this film together initially, I over-cut it, and then I tried to figure out where I wanted to be. It gets over-cut because I’m trying the best I can to find out what the core of the scene is. By I’m also trying to do that with what I consider to be the best performances. My process is, I start with that, and then I start weeding through it, getting it down and focusing; trying to make it as interesting as I can, and not predictable.
In the scenes that you’re talking about, it was all about Viola’s reaction anyway. Her reaction was going to be almost more interesting than whatever he says. I watched it a few times with audiences, and I know from talking to Denzel that when he did it on stage, there’s like a gasp.
When I saw it, everybody in the theatre was like, “What?” It was great.
I know, I know. It was so great. On the stage, people would talk to him, yell at him [Denzel]. “Shame on you, Denzel!” [laughs]. Then, she went into the backyard and did the scene, and that was the end of it. I’d never seen anything like it before. Honestly. It blew me away.
I was cutting that scene at my little home office. My wife was working behind me on her own stuff, and I was crying all the time. Finally, she turned around and asked, “What is wrong with you?” I showed it to her, and she had the same response. It took eight takes to get there, but when she got it, it was amazing. I don’t think too many actresses can do what Viola did. She’s so exposed. It’s just remarkable to watch.
There were three editors on Guardians of the Galaxy — you, Fred Raskin and Craig Wood. How did that work?
Marvel films are, generally speaking, 12 months from shoot to finish. I was on the film for eight months. Craig came in and took over for me. Having said that, it’s hard with two editors or just multiple editors in general. You have to divvy up scenes. Stuff would come in and we would decide together who was going to do it. I got the job because of Fred. I’d known Fred for 25 years. Fred was my intern on Drunks.
Fred had a prior relationship with James Gunn [director of Guardians]. In most cases, I deferred to Fred’s judgment as to how he wanted to divvy up the scenes, because I didn’t have much of a relationship with James when we started. I’d never done a big CG film. For me, it was a revelation. It was fun, trying to cut a dialogue scene between two sticks. One was tall, and one was short — the green marking was going to be Groot, and the other one was going to be Rocket Raccoon.
Can you talk about the importance of the assistant editor in the editorial process? How many assistants did you have on Fences?
On Fences, I had a first and a second. I started out cutting on film, and the assistant editor was a physical job. Touch it, slice it, catalog it, etc. What they have to do now is so complicated and technical that I don’t even know how to do it. Over my career, I’ve pretty much worked with a couple of assistants the whole time. John Breinholt and Heather Mullen worked with me on Fences. I’ve known Heather for 30 years.
What do you look for in an assistant?
Somebody who is going to be able to organize my life when I’m editing; I’m terrible at that. I need them to make sure that things are getting done. I don’t want to think about everything that’s going on behind the scenes, especially when I’m cutting, because it takes a lot of concentration for me just to sit there for 10 hours a day, or even longer, and concentrate on trying to put the movie together.
I like to have somebody that can look at my stuff and tell me what’s working and what’s isn’t. You get a different perspective from different assistants, and it’s really important to have that relationship.
You talked about working on Guardians for eight months, and I read that you cut Fences in six. What do you do to decompress and take care of your own mental health during those time periods?
Good question. It’s hard. When I was working on Fences, I was on the Paramount lot. They have a gym there, so I tried to go to the gym every day. It made my day longer, because I’d get there really early, but I’d go to the gym and get on the treadmill or something for 45 minutes, and that always helped.
Finally, for those who are young or aspiring editors, do you have any words of wisdom?
I think the once piece of advice is to keep going. It helps if you know what you want to do. So many people in this business don’t survive. There can be a lot of lean years, and there certainly were for me in the beginning — I had at least 10. You just have to stay in the game. Even if you’re not working at what you want to do, it’s important to keep working. If you want to be an editor, or a director, you have to practice.
Also, have fun. It’s a movie. Try and have a good time when you’re doing it. You’ll do your best work when you’re relaxed.
Chris Visser is a Wisconsin kid who works and lives in LA. He is currently an assistant editor working in scripted TV. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.
Director of photography John Kelleran shot season eight of the Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible, a reality show in which struggling hotels receive an extensive makeover by veteran hotel operator and hospitality expert Anthony Melchiorri and team.
Kelleran, who has more than two decades experience shooting reality/documentary projects, called on Panasonic VariCam LT 4K cinema camcorders for this series.
eWorking for New York production company Atlas Media, Kelleran shot a dozen Hotel Impossible hour-long episodes in locations that include Palm Springs, Fire Island, Capes May, Cape Hatteras, Sandusky, Ohio, and Albany, New York. The production, which began last April and wrapped in December 2016, spent five days in each location.
Kelleran liked the VariCam LT’s dual native ISOs of 800/5000. “I tested ISO5000 by shooting in my own basement at night, and had my son illuminated only by a lighter and whatever light was coming through the small basement window, one foot candle at best. The footage showed spectacular light on the boy.”
Kelleran regularly deployed ISO5000 on each episode. “The crux of the show is chasing out problems in dark corners and corridors, which we were able to do like never before. The LT’s extreme low light handling allowed us to work in dark rooms with only motivated light sources like lamps and windows, and absolutely keep the honesty of the narrative.”
Atlas Media is handling the edit, using Avid Media Composer. “We gave post such a solid image that they had to spend very little time or money on color correction, but could rather devote resources to graphics, sound design and more,” concludes Kelleran.
Who doesn’t love a good King Kong movie? And who says a good King Kong movie has to have the hairy giant climbing the Empire State Building, lady in hand?
The Jordan Vogt-Roberts-directed Kong: Skull Island, which had an incredible opening weekend at the box office — and is still going strong — tells the story of a 1973 military expedition to map out an island where in 1944 two downed pilots happened upon a huge monster. What could possibly go wrong?
Editor Rick Pearson, who was originally set to come on board for 10 weeks during the Director’s Cut process to help with digital effects turnovers, ended up seeing the project through to the end. Pearson came on during the last third of production, as the crew was heading off to Vietnam.
The process was already in place where rough cuts were shared on the PIX system for the director’s review. That seemed to be work well, he says.
To find out more about the process, I recently touched base with Pearson, who at the time of our interview was in Budapest editing a film about the origin of Robin Hood. He kindly took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his work and workflow on Kong: Skull Island, which in addition to Vietnam shot in Hawaii and Australia.
Would director Vogt-Roberts get you notes? Did he give you any direction in terms of the cut?
Yes, he would give very specific notes via PIX. He would drop the equivalent of locators or markers on sequences that I would send him and say, “Could you maybe try a close-up here?” Or “Could you try this or that?” They were very concise, so that was helpful. Eventually, though, you get to a point where you really need to be in a room together to explore options.
There are a lot of visual effects in the film. Can you talk about how that affected your edit and workflow?
Some of the sequences were quite evolved in terms of previsualization that had been done a year or more prior. Then there was a combination of previs, storyboards and some sequences, one in particular had kind of a loose set of storyboards and some previs, but then the set piece was evolving as we were working.
The production was headed to Vietnam and there was a lot of communication between myself, Jordan and the producers about trying to nail down the structure of this set piece so they would know what to shoot in terms of plates, because it was a battle that largely took place between Kong and one of the creatures of the island — it was a lot of plate work.
Would you say that that was the most difficult sequence to work on, or is there another more challenging sequence that you could point to?
I think they were all challenging. For me, that last sequence, which we called the “Final Battle” was challenging in there was not a lot that was nailed down. There were some beats we knew we wanted to try to play, but it sort of kept evolving. I enjoy working on these kinds of films with those types of sequences because they’re so malleable. It’s a fun sandbox to play in because, to an extent, you’re limited only by your imagination.
Still, you’re committing a lot of money, time and resources, so you need to look down field as far as you can to say, “This is the right direction and we’re all on the same page.” It’s a big, slow-moving, giant cargo ship that takes a long time to course-correct. You want to make sure that you’re heading in the right direction, or at least as close as you can be, when you start going down those roads.
Any other shots that stand out?
There was one thing that was kind of a novelty on this picture — and I know that it’s not the first time it’s been done, but it was the first time for me. We had some pretty extensive re-shoots, but our cast was kind of spread all over the globe. In one of the re-shoots, we needed a conversation to happen in a bar between three of the characters, Tom Hiddelston, John Goodman and Cory Hawkins. None of them were available at the same time or in the same city.
The scene was going to the three of them sitting down at a table having a conversation where John Goodman’s character offers Tom Hiddelston’s character a job as their guide to take them to Skull Island. I think it was Goodman’s character that was shot first. We show Goodman’s side of the table in New York with that side of the bar behind him and an empty chair beside him. Then we shot Hawkin’s character by himself in front of a greenscreen sitting in a chair reacting to Goodman and delivering his dialogue. Lastly, we shot Hiddelston in LA with that side of the bar and overs with doubles. It all came together, and I thought, “I don’t think anybody would have a clue that none of these people were in the same room at the same time.” It was kind of a Rubik’s Cube… an editorial bit of sleight of hand that worked in the end.
You worked with other editors on the film, correct?
Yes, editor Bob Murawski helped me tremendously; he ended up taking over my original role, which was during the Director’s Cut. Bob came on to help split up these really demanding visual effects sequence turnovers every two weeks. We had to keep on it to make the release date.
Murawski was a huge help, but so was the addition of Josh Schaeffer, who had worked with Jordan in the past. He was one of the additional editors on Jordan’s Kings of Summer (2013). Jordan had shot a lot of material — it wasn’t necessarily montage-based, but we weren’t entirely sure how it was going to work in the picture. We knew that he had a long-standing relationship with Josh and was comfortable with him. Bob said, “While we’re in the middle of a Director’s Cut and you and I are trying to feed this giant visual effects beast, there’s also this whole other aspect that Jordan and Josh could really focus on.” Josh was a really big help in getting us through the process. Both Bob and Josh were very big assets to me.
How do you work with your assistant editor?
I’ve had the same first assistant, Sean Thompson, for about 12 years. Unfortunately, he’s not with me here in Budapest. I took this film after the original editor dropped out for health reasons. Sean has a young family, and 15 weeks in Budapest and then another 12 weeks in London just wasn’t possible for him.
How did you work with Sean on Skull Island?
He’s a terrific manager of the cutting room in terms of discerning the needs of other departments, be it digital effects, music or sound. I lean on him to let me know what I absolutely need to know, and he takes care of the rest. That’s one of the roles he serves, and he’s bulletproof.
I also rely on him creatively. He’s tremendous with his sound work and very good at looking at cuts with me and giving his feedback. I throw him scenes to cut as much as I can, but sometimes on films like this there are so many other demands as a manager.
You use Avid Media Composer. Any special keyboard mappings, or other types of work you provide?
As a feature film editor my main objective is to make sure that the story and the characters are firing on all cylinders. I’m not particularly interested in how far I can push the box technically.
I’ve mapped the keyboard to what I’m comfortable with, but I don’t think it’s anything that’s particularly sophisticated. I try to do as much as I can on the keyboard so that I keep the
pointing and clicking to a minimum.
You edit a lot of action films. Is that just because people say, “He does action,” or is that your favorite kind of film to cut?
It’s interesting you should say that… the first Hollywood feature I cut was Bowfinger, which is comedy. I hadn’t cut any comedy before that and suddenly I was the comedy editor. I found it ironic because everything I had done prior was action-based television, music videos and commercials. I’ve always loved cutting action and juxtaposing images in a way that tells a story that’s not necessarily being told verbally. It’s not just like, “Wow, look at how much stuff is blowing up and that’s amazing how many cars are involved.” It’s actually character-based and story-driven.
I also really enjoy comedy. There is quite a lot of comedy in Kong, so it’s nice to flex that muscle too. I’ve tried very hard to not get pigeonholed.
So you are knee-deep in this Robin Hood film?
I sure am! I wasn’t planning on getting back on to another film quite so quickly, but I was very intrigued by both the director and script. As I mentioned earlier, they had an editor slated for the picture but unfortunately she fell ill just weeks prior to the start of production. So suddenly, here I am.
The added bonus is you get to play in Europe for a bit.
Yes, actually, I’m sitting here in my apartment. I have a laptop and an additional monitor and I’ve been cutting scenes. I have a lovely view of the parliament building, which is on the Danube. It’s a beautiful domed building that’s lit up every night until midnight. It’s really kind of cool.
Editor Doobie White straddles two worlds. As co-founder of West Los Angeles-based Therapy Studios, he regularly works on commercials and music videos, but he also gets to step out of that role to edit movies. In fact, his most recent, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter for director Paul WS Anderson, is his ninth feature film.
Recently, we reached out to White to ask him about his workflow on this film, his editing techniques, his background and why regularly cutting more than one type of project makes him a better editor. Ok, let’s dig in.
What was it like coming onto a film that was an established franchise, and the last film in that franchise? Did that add any pressure?
The pressure was definitely on. The Final Chapter needed to be bigger, scarier and more exciting than the previous films. It’s also when the story comes full circle. We find out who Alice really is and what she has been fighting against throughout the franchise. There was a considerable amount of time and effort put into the edit to make it the best possible film it could be. That is what we aim for.
How early did you come on board? Were you on set? Near set? Keeping up with camera?
I was brought on a month or so before principal photography began. The film was shot in South Africa. I was there for four months cutting away like a madman. I was keeping up with camera so they could pick up any extra shots that would help tell the story. This was a life saver in the end. Scenes got better and we solved problems early on in the process. By the time we left South Africa we had a full rough cut. No re-shoots were necessary because they got it all before we left.
This is an action film with a lot of VFX. How did that affect your edit? Did they do pre and postvis on this one? Does that help you?
There was previs for some of the more complicated VFX in the movie, but that was mainly for production, to get a better understanding of what Paul was looking for and to make sure they captured every shot that was needed. I do think it really helps to get everyone on the same page. The scene usually evolves, but it’s a great way to start. I basically do the same thing but with the real footage when there is a lot of VFX involved.
When I’m working on a heavy VFX sequence, I really put everything into the scene that I possibly can to make sure it is working. There is a scene with a big flying creature at the beginning of the film that we called Dragon vs. Hummer. It’s basically exactly what it sounds like. I took still cut-outs of a temp creature and placed them into the shots, making the creature chase Alice around a destroyed Washington, DC. My goal was to make the edit look and sound like the finished film — albeit, with a silly cut-out of a scary monster. If I can create excitement with a still, I know the finished scene is going to be great.
Did the director shoot a lot of footage?
Paul does shoot a lot. He covers everything really well. I’m hardly ever painted into a corner. He always gives me a way out. Having tons of footage does make it more difficult when putting scenes together, but I love having the options to play.
What direction were you given from him in terms of the cut, if any?
We kinda had a motto for the film. Probably not a motto, but it’s something that Paul would say after showing him a cut, and I would always keep in mind. “There is a lot of great stuff in there… all you need to do now is move it all closer together.” Paul really wanted this film to be non-stop — for the story to always be propelled forward. I took that as a mission statement: to always make the audience feel like Alice, caught in this crazy post-apocalyptic world — with violence, chaos and monsters!
How did you work with Anderson? How often were you showing him cuts?
Paul is great to work with. We had an absolute blast cutting this film together. In the early stages I was just trying to tame the beast, so we would get together a couple of times a week to review. By the end, Paul was in everyday pushing me to take the edit into new territory. What’s incredible about Paul is that he never runs out of ideas. Anytime there was a problem he would always have a creative solution. It truly is a joy to work on a film like this with a director that isn’t afraid to push visual storytelling.
What system did you edit on?
Avid 8.3.1. It was the most stable at the time. Avid is still the best at having multiple people working on the same material at the same time. I might consider other software if they could match the sharing functionality that Avid has been doing for years. I also frequently use Adobe Photoshop and After Effects.
Do you have any special shortcuts/tricks you use often?
This really isn’t a shortcut or a trick, but it relates. If I find a performance that I like but there is something wrong with the image, I will usually figure out a way to fix it. I tend to do this on every job to some degree. For instance, if an actors eyes are shut when they are delivering a line, I will replace their eyes from a different take. Sometimes I’m replacing heads to have characters looking in the right direction. I will comp two different takes together. I use every tool I’ve got to get the best performance possible.
How do you organize your projects? Any special bins/folders of commonly used stuff like speed ramps, transitions, etc.?
I have a lot of bins that migrate from job to job. I place just as much importance on sound as I do on picture. Everything I do involves sound in a very specific way. So I have around 120 sound effects bins that I move over to every job that I do. Everything from footsteps to gunshots. I’m adding to this all the time, but it saves multiple days of work to keep a master set of sounds and then add specific sounds for each job.
On this one, we recorded a bunch of people in our office for zombie sounds, pitching their voices and adding effects to make them sound truly disturbing. I also have 60 bins or so of music that I keep on hand. I’m adding to this all the time as well.
What do you expect from an assistant editor, and how much knowledge should they already have? Are they essentially technical editors or do you mentor them?
I expect a lot from my assistants. They need to be technically savvy, but they also need to know how to edit. I do so many VFX and do a full sound design pass on every scene. My assistants have to be able to contribute on all fronts. One day they will be organizing. The next they will be adding sounds and lasers (temp VFX) to a scene. I have worked with the same assistant for a bunch of years. Her name is Amy K. Bostrom, and she is amazing. She does all the technical side, but she is a great editor in her own right. I have no doubt that she will have a great career.
How did you approach this project and was it any different than commercials/music videos?
It’s definitely different, but I start in a very similar way. I like to get a scene/commercial/music video cut together as fast as possible. I don’t watch a lot of the footage on the first pass. When I have a rough cut I go back to the dailies and watch everything. At that point I know what I’m looking for and my selects have a purpose.
If you could edit any genre and project what would you do?
That’s a tough question. I don’t think I really have a preference. I want the challenge and to be pushed creatively. Every project that I work on I’m really just trying to make myself feel something. I search for footage and sound that evokes emotion, and I cut it in a way that produces some sort of feeling in myself. Whether that be happiness, pain, excitement, fear, pleasure — if I can feel something when I’m working, then others will as well. I want to work on projects that connect with people in some way. The genre is secondary.
Are you ever satisfied with an edit, or does the edit just stop because of deadlines? Could you tinker forever or do know when something is at the right spot?
I think it is a little bit of both. You work really hard to get a project into a good place. Fix all the problems, fine-tune everything, but eventually you run out of time. A movie could be worked on forever. So it is like George Lucas said, “Movies are abandoned.” I believe a film can always be better. I go for that until I can’t.
Do you have any life/work balance tips or processes you do?
Unfortunately, no. I wish I did. I just have a lot of passion for what I do. I can’t really focus on anything else when I’m on a project. I try to disconnect from it, but I’m always thinking about it in some way. How can it be better? What is this scene/movie/commercial really about? How can I fix something that is not working? I’m half present when I’m on a project and I’m not in the cutting room. It takes over my life. It’s probably not the healthiest way to go, but it’s the only way I know. Honestly, I love it. I’m fine with getting a little obsessive. I’m going to work on meditating!
It must be fun to run an editorial house, but also step into the world of features films from time to time. Keeps things fresh for you?
Yes, it is nice to be able to jump from different types of projects. I love commercials and I love movies, but they are quite different and use different muscles. By the time I’m done with a movie I am so ready to cut commercials for a while, and vice versa. Films are extremely rewarding, but it’s an endurance race. Commercials are instant gratification. You cut for a week or two, and its on air the following week. It’s great! After a few months of commercials I’m ready for a new challenge.
Where/when did you get the first itch to work in video/film?
I had no plans of working in the film industry. I loved movies, music videos, and commercials, but I was so far removed from that world that I never saw a path. I was a ski bum studying art in Lake Tahoe, and one of the classes offered was digital media. This is the first time I realized you could edit clips together on a computer. It changed everything I was focused on. I started making silly short films and cutting them together. It wasn’t a film school and no one else was doing this so I had to do everything. From the writing, shooting and the music.
What I enjoyed the most was editing these little masterpieces. I decided I was going to figure out how to get someone to pay me to be an editor. I moved to LA and pretty much got laughed at. I couldn’t find a job, I was sleeping on couches. It was a bit desperate. The only opportunity that I eventually landed was an internship at a post house. After many coffee runs and taking out the trash, an editor asked me to work on a music video over the weekend. I jumped at the opportunity and didn’t go home until he came back on Monday. After he saw the cut I was hired the next day. This post house is where I met three of my best friends who would eventually become my partners at Therapy Studios.
Was your family supportive of you going into a creative job like editing?
To a degree, yes. It took a long time to find a path as an editor, and I think it was a bit confusing for them when I started working as an intern, especially being that I had zero cash and they were in no place to help. What I think is hard for a lot of people to understand that are not in the industry is that its very difficult to get a job in the film business. No matter what career you want to do, there are a thousand other kids that are trying to do the same thing. Perseverance is key. If you can outlast others you will probably find a way… ha!
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.
What do you need to know about the latest pro laptop from Apple? Well, the MacBook Pro is fast and light; the new Touch Bar is handy and sharp but not fully realized; the updated keys on the keyboard are surprisingly great; and working with ProRes QuickTime files in resolutions higher than 1920×1080 inside of FCP X, or any NLE for that matter, is blazing fast.
When I was tasked with reviewing the new MacBook Pro, I came into it with an open mind. After all, I did read a few other reviews that weren’t exactly glowing, but I love speed and innovation among professional workstation computers, so I was eager to test it myself.
I am pretty open-minded when it comes to operating systems and hardware. I love Apple products and I love Windows-based PCs. I think both have their place in our industry, and to be quite honest it’s really a bonus for me that I don’t rely heavily on one OS or get too tricked by the Command Key vs. Windows/Alt Key.
Let’s start with the call I had with the Apple folks as they gave me the lowdown on the new MacBook Pro. The Apple reps were nice, energetic, knowledgeable and extremely helpful. While I love Apple products, including this laptop, it’s not the be-all-end-all.
The Touch Bar is nice, but not a revolution. It feels like the first step in an evolution, a version 1 of an innovation that I am excited to see more of in later iterations. When I talked with the Apple folks they briefed me on what Tim Cook showed off in the reveal: emoji buttons, wide gamut display, new speakers and USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.
They had an FCPX expert on the call, which was nice considering I planned on reviewing the MacBook Pro with a focus on the use of nonlinear editing apps, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer and Blackmagic’s Resolve. Don’t get me wrong, FCPX is growing on me — it’s snappy jumping around the timeline with ProRes 5K footage; assigning roles are something I wish every other app would pick up on; and the timeline is more of a breeze to use with the latest update.
The other side to this is that in my 13 years of working in television post I have never worked on a show that primarily used FCP or FCPX to edit or finish on. This doesn’t mean I don’t like the NLE, it simply means I haven’t relied on it in a professional working environment. Like I said, I really like the road it’s heading down, and if they work their way into mainstream broadcast or streaming platforms a little more I am sure I will see it more frequently.
Furthermore, with the ever-growing reduction in reliance on groups of editors and finishing artists apps like FCPX are poised to shine with their innovation. After all that blabbering, in this review I will touch on FCPX, but I really wanted to see how the MacBook Pro performed with the pro NLEs I encounter the most.
Let’s jump into the specs. I was sent a top-of-the-line 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, which costs $3,499 if configured online. It comes with a quad/-core Intel Core i7 2.9GHz (up to 3.8 GHz using Turbo Boost) processor, 16GB of 2133MHz memory, 1TB PCI-e SSD hard drive and Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB of memory. It’s loaded. I think the only thing that can actually be upgraded beyond this configuration would be to include a 2TB hard drive, which would add another $800 to the price tag.
Physically, the MacBook Pro is awesome — very sturdy, very thin and very light. It feels great when holding it and carrying it around. Apple even sent along a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, which costs an extra $29 and a USB-C to Lightning Cable that costs an extra $29.
So yes, it feels great. Apple has made a great new MacBook Pro. Is it worth upgrading if you have a new-ish MacBook Pro at home already? Probably not, unless the Touch Bar really gets you going. The speed is not too far off from the previous version. However, if you have a lot of Thunderbolt 3/USB-C-connected peripherals, or plan on moving to them, then it is a good upgrade.
I ran some processor/graphics card intensive tests while I had the new MacBook Pro and came to the conclusion that FCPX is not that much faster than Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017 when working with non-ProRes-based media. Yes, FCPX tears through ProRes QuickTimes if you already have your media in that format. What about if you shoot on a camera like the Red and don’t want to transcode to a more edit-friendly codec? Well, that is another story. To test out my NLEs, I grabbed a sample Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps clip from the Red sample footage page, strung out a 10-minute-long sequence in all the NLEs and exported both a color-graded version and a non-color-graded version as ProRes HQ QuickTimes files matching the source file’s specs.
In order to work with Red media in some of the NLEs, you must download a few patches: for FCPX you must install the Red Apple workflow installer and for Media Composer you must install the Red AMA plug-in. Premiere doesn’t need anything extra.
Test 1: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute sequence (no color grade or FX) exported as ProRes HQ matching the source file’s specs. Premiere > Media Encoder = 1 hour, 55 minutes. FCPX = 1 hour, 57 minutes. Media Composer = two hours, 42 minutes (Good news, Media Composer’s interface and fonts display correctly on the new display).
You’ll notice that Resolve is missing from this list and that is because I installed Resolve 12.5.4 Studio but then realized my USB dongle won’t fit into the USB-C port — and I am not buying an adapter for a laptop I do not get to keep. So, unfortunately, I didn’t test a true 6K ProRes HQ export from Resolve but in the last test you will see some Resolve results.
Overall, there was not much difference in speeds. In fact, I felt that Premiere Pro CC 2017 played the Red file a little smoother and at a higher frames-per-second count. FCPX struggled a little. Granted a 6K Red file is one of the harder files for a CPU to process with no debayer settings enabled, but Apple touts this as a MacPro semi-replacement for the time being and I am holding them to their word.
Test 2: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute color-graded sequence exported as ProRes HQ matching the source files specs. Premiere > Media Encoder = one hour, 55 minutes. FCPX = one hour, 58 minutes. Media Composer = two hours, 34 minutes.
It’s important to note that the GPU definitely helped out in both Adobe Premiere and FCPX. Little to no extra time was added on the ProRes HQ export. I was really excited to see this as sometimes without a good GPU — resizing, GPU-accelerated effects like color correction and other effects will slow your system to a snail’s pace if it doesn’t fully crash. Media Composer surprisingly speed up its export when I added the color grade as a new color layer in the timeline. By adding the color correction layer to another layer Avid might have forced the Radeon to kick in and help push the file out. Not really sure what that is about to be honest.
Test 3: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute color-graded sequence resized to 1920×1080 on export as ProRes HQ. Premiere > Media Encoder = one hour, 16 minutes. FCPX = one hour, 14 minutes. Media Composer = one hour, 48 minutes. Resolve = one hour, 16 minutes
So after these tests, it seems that exporting and transcoding are all about the same. It doesn’t really come as too big of a surprise that all the NLEs, except for Media Composer, processed the Red file in the same amount of time. Regardless of the NLE, you would need to knock the debayering down to a half or more to start playing these clips at realtime in a timeline. If you have the time to transcode to ProRes you will get much better playback and rendering speed results. Obviously, transcoding all of your files to a codec, like ProRes or Avid DNX, takes way more time up front but could be worth it if you crunched for time on the back end.
In addition to Red 6K files, I also tested ProRes HQ 4K files inside of Premiere and FCPX, and both played them extremely smoothly without hiccups, which is pretty amazing. Just a few years ago I was having trouble playing down 10:1 compressed files in Media Composer and now I can playback superb-quality 4K files without a problem, a tremendous tip of the hat to technology and, specifically, Apple for putting so much power in a thin and light package.
While I was in the mood to test speeds, I hooked up a Thunderbolt 2 SSD RAID (OWC Thunderbay 4 mini) configured in RAID-0 to see what kind of read/write bandwidth I would get running through the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. I used both AJA System Test as well as the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. The AJA test reported a write speed of 929MB/sec. and read speed of 1120MB/sec. The Blackmagic test reported a write speed of 683.1MB/sec. and 704.7MB/sec. from different tests and a read speed of 1023.3MB/sec. I set the test file for both at 4GB. These speeds are faster than what I have previously found when testing this same Thunderbolt 2 SSD RAID on other systems.
For comparison, the AJA test reported a write speed of 1921MB/sec. and read speed of 2134MB/sec. when running on the system drive. The Blackmagic test doesn’t allow for testing on the system drive.
What Else You Need to Know
So what about the other upgrades and improvements? When exporting these R3D files I noticed the fan kicked on when resizing or adding color grading to the files. Seems like the GPU kicked on and heated up which is to be expected. The fan is not the loudest, but it is noticeable.
The battery life on the new MacBook Pro is great when just playing music, surfing the web or writing product reviews. I found that the battery lasted about two days without having to plug in the power adapter. However, when exporting QuickTimes from either Premiere or FCPX the battery life dropped — a lot. I was getting a battery life of one hour and six minutes, which is not good when your export will take two hours. Obviously, you need to plug in when doing heavy work; you don’t really have an option.
This leads me to the new USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports — and, yes, you still have a headphone jack (thank goodness they didn’t talk with the iPhone developers). First off, I thought the MagSafe power adapter should have won a Nobel Peace Prize. I love it. It must be responsible for saving millions of dollars in equipment when people trip over a power cord — gracefully disconnecting without breaking or pulling your laptop off the table. However, I am disappointed Apple didn’t create a new type of MagSafe cable with the USB-C port. I will miss it a lot. The good news is you can now plug in your power adapter to either side of the MacBook Pro.
Adapters and dongles will have to be purchased if you pick up a new MacBook Pro. Each time I used an external peripheral or memory card like an SD card, Tangent Ripple Color Correction panel or external hard drive, I was disappointed that I couldn’t plug them in. Nonetheless, a good Thunderbolt 3 dock is a necessity in my opinion. You could survive with dongles but my OCD starts flaring up when I have to dig around my backpack for adapters. I’m just not a fan. I love how Apple dedicated themselves to a fast I/O like USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, but I really wish they gave it another year. Just one old-school USB port would have been nice. I might have even gotten over no SD card reader.
The Touch Bar
I like it. I would even say that I love it — in the apps that are compatible. Right now there aren’t many. Adobe released an update to Adobe Photoshop that added compatibility with the Touch Bar, and it is really handy especially when you don’t have your Wacom tablet available (or a USB dongle to attach it). I love how it gives access to so many levels of functionality to your tools within your immediate reach.
It has super-fast feedback. When I adjusted the contrast on the Touch Bar I found that the MacBook Pro was responding immediately. This becomes even more evident in FCPX and the latest Resolve 12.5.4 update. It’s clear Apple did their homework and made their apps like Mail and Messages work with the Touch Bar (hence emojis on the Touch Bar). FCPX has a sweet ability to scrub the timeline, zoom in to the timeline, adjust text and more from just the Touch Bar — it’s very handy, and after a while I began missing it when using other computers.
In Blackmagic’s latest DaVinci Resolve release, 12.5.4, they have added Touch Bar compatibility. If you can’t plug in your color correction panels, the Touch Bar does a nice job of easing the pain. You can do anything from contrast work to saturation, even adjust the midtones and printer lights, all from the Touch Bar. If you use external input devices a lot, like Wacom tablets or color correction panels, the Touch Bar will be right up your alley.
One thing I found missing was a simple application launcher on the Touch Bar. If you do pick up the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, you might want to download Touch Switcher, a free app I found via 9to5mac.com that allows you to have an app launcher on your Touch Bar. You can hide the dock, allowing you more screen real estate and the efficient use of the Touch Bar to launch apps. I am kind of surprised Apple didn’t make something like this standard.
From a purely superficial and non-scientific point of view, the newly updated P3-compatible wide-gamut display looks great… really great, actually. The colors are rich and vibrant. I did a little digging under the hood and noticed that it is an 8-bit display (data that you can find by locating the pixel depth in the System Information > Graphics/Display), which might limit the color gradations when working in a color space like P3 as opposed to a 10-bit display displaying in a P3 color space. Simply, you have a wider array of colors in P3 but a small amount of color shades to fill it up.
The MacBook Pro display is labeled as 32-bit color meaning the RGB and Alpha channels each have 8 bits, giving a total of 32 bits. Eight-bit color gives 256 shades per color channel while 10-bit gives 1,024 shades per channel, allowing for much smoother transitions between colors and luminance values (imagine a sky at dusk going smoothly from an orange to light blue to dark blue — the more colors per channel allows for a smoother gradient between lights and darks). A 10-bit display would have 30-bit color with each channel having 10 bits.
I tried to hook up a 10-bit display, but the supplied Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 dongle Apple sent me did not work with the mini display port. I did a little digging and it seems people are generally not happy that Apple doesn’t allow this to work, especially since Thunderbolt 2 and mini DisplayPort are the same connection. Some people have been able to get around this by hooking up their display through daisy chaining something like a Thunderbolt 2 RAID.
While I couldn’t directly test an external display when I had the MacBook Pro, I’ve read that people have been able to push 10-bit color out of the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports to an external monitor. So as long as you are at a desk with a monitor you can most likely have 10-bit color output from this system.
I reached out to Apple on the types of adapters they recommend for an external display and they suggest a USB-C to DisplayPort adapter made by Aukey. It retails for $9.99. They also recommend the USB-C to DisplayPort cable from StarTech, which retails for $39.99. Make sure you read the reviews on Amazon because the experience people have with this varies wildly. I was not able to test either of these so I cannot give my personal opinion.
In the end, the new MacBook Pro is awesome. If you own a recent release of the MacBook Pro and don’t have $3,500 to spare, I don’t know if this is the update you will be looking for. If you are trying to find your way around going to a Windows-based PC because of the lack of Mac Pro updates, this may ease the pain slightly. Without more than 16GB of memory and an Intel Xeon or two, however, it might actually slow you down.
The battery life is great when doing light work, one of the longest batteries I’ve used on a laptop. But when doing the heavy work, you need to be near an outlet. When plugged into that outlet be careful no one yanks out your USB-C power adapter as it might throw your MacBook Pro to the ground or break off inside.
I really do love Apple products. They typically just work. I didn’t even touch on the new Touch ID Sensor that can immediately switch you to a different profile or log you in after waking up the MacBook Pro from sleep. I love that you can turn the new MacBook Pro on and it simply works, and works fast.
The latest iteration of FCPX is awesome as well, and just because I don’t see it being used a lot professionally doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. It’s a well-built NLE that should be given a fairer shake than it has been given. If you are itching for an update to an old MacBook Pro, don’t mind having a dock or carrying around a bunch of dongles, then the 2016 MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar is for you.
The new MacBook Pro chews through ProRes-based media from 1920×1080 to 4K, 6K and higher will play but might slow down. If you are a Red footage user this new MacBook Pro works great, but you still might have to knock the debayering down a couple notches.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.
With the lukewarm reaction of the professional community to the new Apple MacBook Pro, there are many creative professionals who are seriously — for the first time in their careers — considering whether or not to jump into a Windows-based world.
I grew up using an Apple II GS from 1986 (I was born in 1983, if you’re wondering), but I always worked on both Windows and Apple computers. I guess my father really instilled the idea of being independent and not relying on one thing or one way of doing something — he wanted me to rely on my own knowledge and not on others.
Not to get too philosophical, but when he purchased all the parts I needed to build my own Windows system, it was incredibly gratifying. I would have loved to have built my own Apple system, but obviously never could. That is why I am so open to computer systems of any operating system software.
If you are deciding whether or not to upgrade your workstation and have never considered solutions other than HP, Dell or Apple, you will want to read what I have to say about Lenovo‘s latest workstation, the P410.
When I set out on this review, I didn’t have any Display Port-compatible monitors and Lenovo was nice enough to send their beautiful Think Vision Pro 2840m — another great piece of hardware.
I want to jump right into the specs of the ThinkStation P410. Under the hood is an Intel Xeon E5-1650 v4, which in plain terms is a 6-core 3.6GHz 15MB CPU that can reach all the way up to 4.0GHz if needed using Intel’s Turbo Boost technology. The graphics card is a medium-sized monster — the Nvidia Quadro M4000 with 8GB of GDDR5 memory and 1664 CUDA cores. It has 4 DisplayPort 1.2 ports to power those four 30-bit 4096×2160 @60Hz displays you will run when editing and color correcting.
If you need more CUDA power you could step up to the Nvidia M5000, which runs 2048 CUDA cores or the M6000, which runs 3072 CUDA cores, but that power isn’t cheap (and as of this review they are not even an option from Lenovo in the P410 customization — you will probably have to step up to a higher model number).
There is 16GB of DD4-2400 ECC memory, 1TB 2.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s SSD (made by Macron), plus a few things like a DVD writer, media card reader, keyboard and mouse. At the time I was writing this review, you could configure this system for a grand total of $2,794, but if you purchase it online at shop.lenovo.com it will cost a little under $2,515 with some online discounts. As I priced this system out over a few weeks I noticed the prices changed, so keep in mind it could be higher. I configured a similar style HP z440 workstation for around $3,600 and a Dell Precision Tower 5000 for around $3,780, so Lenovo’s prices are on the low end for major-brand workstations.
For expansion (which Windows-based PCs seem to lead the pack in), you have a total of four DIMM slots for memory (two are taken up already by two 8GB sticks), four PCIe slots and four hard drive bays. Two of the hard drive bays are considered Flex Bays, which can be used for hard drives, hard drive + slim optical drive or something like front USB 3.0 ports.
On the back there are your favorite PS/2 keyboard port and mouse port, two USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, audio in/out/mic and four DisplayPorts.
I first wanted to test the P410’s encoding speed when using Adobe Media Encoder. I took a eight-minute, 30 second 1920×1080 23.98fps ProRes HQ QuickTime that I had filmed using a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, did a quick color balance in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017 using the Lumetri Color Correction tools and exported a Single Pass, variable bit rate 25Mb/s H.264 using Media Encoder. Typically, CUDA cores kick in when you use GPU-accelerated tools like transitions, scaling in Premiere and when you export files with GPU effects such as Lumetri Color tools. Typically, when exporting from tools, like Adobe Premiere Pro CC or Adobe Media Encoder, the GPU acceleration kicks in only if you’ve applied GPU-accelerated effects, color correction with something like Lumetri (which is GPU accelerated) or a resize effect. Otherwise if you are just transcoding from one codec to another the CPU will handle the task.
In this test, it took Media Encoder about six minutes to encode the H.264 when Mercury Playback Engine GPU Acceleration (CUDA) was enabled. Without the GPU acceleration enabled it took 14 minutes. So by using the GPU, I got about a 40 percent speed increase thanks to the power of the Nvidia Quadro M4000 with 8GB of GDDR5 RAM.
For comparison, I did the same test on a newly released MacBook Pro with Touch Bar i7 2.9Ghz Quad Core, 16GB of 2133 MHz LPDDR3 memory and AMD Radeon Pro 460 4GB of RAM (uses OpenCL as opposed to CUDA); it took Media Encoder about nine minutes using the GPU.
Another test I love to run uses Maxon’s Cinebench, which simply runs real-world scenarios like photorealistic rendering and a 3D car chase. This taxes your system with almost one million polygons and textures. Basically, it makes your system do a bunch of math, which helps in separating immature workstations from the professional ones. This system came in around 165 frames per second. In comparison to other systems, with similar configurations to the P410, it placed first or second. So it’s fast.
Lenovo Performance Tuner
While the low price is what really sets the P410 apart from the rest of the pack, Lenovo has recently released a hardware tuning software program called Lenovo Performance Tuner. Performance Tuner is a free app that helps to focus your Lenovo workstation on the app you are using. For instance, I use Adobe CC a lot at home, so when I am working in Premiere I want all of my power focused there with minimal power focused on background apps that I may not have turned off — sometimes I let Chrome run in the background or I want to jump between Premiere, Resolve and Photoshop. You can simply launch Performance Tuner and click the app you want to launch in Lenovo’s “optimized” state. You can go further by jumping into the Settings tab and customize things like Power Management Mode to always be on Max Performance. It’s a pretty handy tool when you want to quickly funnel all of your computing resources to one app.
The Think Vision Pro Monitor
Lastly, I wanted to quickly touch on the Think Vision Pro 2840m LED backlit LCD monitor Lenovo let me borrow for this review. The color fidelity is awesome and can work at a resolution up to 3840×2160 (UHD, not full 4K). It will tilt and rotate almost any way you need it to, and it will even go full vertical at 90 degrees.
When working with P410 I had some problems with DisplayPort not always kicking in with the monitor, or any monitor for that matter. Sometimes I would have to unplug and plug the DisplayPort cable back in while the system was on for the monitor to recognize and turn on. Nonetheless, the monitor is awesome at 28 inches. Keep in mind it has a glossy finish so it might not be for you if you are near a lot of light or windows — while the color and brightness punch through, there is a some glare with other light sources in the room.
In the end, the Lenovo ThinkStation P410 workstation is a workhorse. Even though it’s at the entry level of Lenovo’s workstations, it has a lot of power and a great price. When I priced out a similar system using PC Partpicker, it ran about $2,600 — you can check out the DIY build I put together on PCPartpicker.com: https://pcpartpicker.com/list/r9H4Ps.
A drawback of DIY custom builds though is that they don’t include powerful support, a complete warranty from a single company or ISV certifications (ISV = Independent Software Vendors). Simply, ISVs are the way major workstation builders like HP, Dell and Lenovo test their workstations against commonly used software like Premiere Pro or Avid Media Composer in workstation-focused industries like editing or motion graphics.
One of the most misunderstood benefits of a workstation is that it’s meant to run day and night. So not only do you get enterprise-level components like Nvidia Quadro graphics cards and Intel Xeon CPUs, the components are made for durability as well as performance. This way there is little downtime, especially in mission-critical environments. I didn’t get to run this system for months constantly, but I didn’t see any sign of problems in my testing.
When you buy a Lenovo workstation it comes with a three-year on-site warranty, which covers anything that goes wrong with the hardware itself, including faulty workmanship. But it won’t cover things like spills, drops or electrical surges.
I liked the Lenovo ThinkStation P410. It’s fast, does the job and has quality components. I felt that it lacked a few of today’s necessary I/O ports like USB-C/Thunderbolt 3.
The biggest pro for this workstation is the overwhelmingly low price point for a major brand workstation like the ThinkStation P410. Check out the Lenovo website for the P410 and maybe even wander into the P910 aisle, which showcases some of the most powerful workstations they make.
Check out this video I made that gives you a closer look at (and inside) the workstation.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.
In the scheme of things, we work in a very small industry where relationships, work ethic and talent matter. Brian Scofield is living proof of that. He is one of a team of editors who worked on Warren Beatty’s recent Rules Don’t Apply.
That team included lead editor Billy Weber, Leslie Jones and Robin Gonsalves. It was the veteran editor Weber (Beatty’s Bulworth 1998) who brought Scofield on board as a second editor.
Weber was Scofield’s mentor while he was in the MFA program at USC. “Not long after I completed graduate school, Billy helped me reconnect with the Malick camp, who I met while working in the camera crew on Tree of Life,” he explains. “I then became an apprentice on To the Wonder, and then an editor on Knight of Cups. When Billy came in as an advisor at the end of Knight of Cups, we reconnected in LA. He had just begun working on Rules Don’t Apply with Warren, and when I finished my work on Knight of Cups, he brought me aboard.”
Scofield recognizes that relationships open doors, but says you have to walk through them and prove you belong in the room all by yourself. “I think people often make the mistake of thinking that networking trumps talent and work ethic, or the other way around, and that just isn’t true. All three are required to have a career as a film editor — the ability to form lasting relationships, the diligence to work really hard, and having natural instincts that you’re always striving to improve upon.”
Scofield says he will always be grateful to Weber and the example he’s set. “I’m only one of over a dozen people whose careers Billy has helped launch over the years. It’s in large part his generosity and mentorship that inspires me to pay it forward any chance I get.”
Let’s find out more from Scofield about his editing process, what he’s learned over the years, and the importance of collaboration.
You have worked with two Hollywood icons in Terrence Malick and Warren Beatty. I’m assuming you’re not easily intimidated.
It’s been a transformative experience in every way. These two guys, who have been making films for over 40 years, are constantly challenging themselves to try new things… to experiment, to learn. They’re always re-evaluating pretty much everything from the story to the style, and yet these are two guys with such distinct voices that really shine through their work. You know a Malick or Beatty film when you see it. The Inexhaustibility of the cinematic art form, I guess, is what I really took away from both of them.
They are both very different kinds of filmmakers.
You would never think that working on a Terrence Malick film would prepare you to work on a Warren Beatty film. Knight of Cups is a stream-of-consciousness, meditative tome about the meaning of life. Warren’s film is a romantic comedy with a historical drama slant. Aesthetically, they’re very different films, but the process of constantly finding ways to break open the movie all over again, and the mindset that requires, is very similar.
Both Terry and Warren are uncompromising and passionate about making movies the way they want and not bending to conventions, yet at the same time looking for ways to reach people on a very deep level. In this case, both films were also deeply personal for the director. When you work on something like that, it adds another layer of pressure because you want to honor how much of themselves they’re willing to put into their work. But that’s also where I believe the most exciting films come from. That pressure just becomes inspiration.
How early did you get involved on Rules Don’t Apply?
Right after production wrapped. I was finishing up with Terry on the mix stage for Knight of Cups when Billy called. They had an assembly of the film when I joined — everything was in there — and that version was probably about four hours long. Interestingly, some things have changed dramatically since that version and some are remarkably similar.
I was on Rules Don’t Apply for just over a year, but I’ve been back several times since officially finishing. I took a good amount of time off and went back, and since then I’ve popped in and out whenever Warren has needed me. Robin became a true caretaker of the film, staying with Warren through that additional time leading up to the release.
Is that typically how you’ve worked? Coming in after there’s an assembly?
I’ve come in as an additional set eyes on some, and I’ve been on films during production, sending cuts to the director while they’re in the middle of shooting. This includes giving feedback on pick-ups they need to grab or things to be wary of performance-wise, those types of things.
Both are thrilling experiences. It’s fun to come in when there has been one specific approach and they’re open to new ideas. You kind of get to shake people out of the one way they’ve been going about the film. When I’m the editor that’s been working on the film since the beginning, that initial discovery period when you see the film take shape for the first time is always thrilling. The relationship you form with both the film and the director is hard to beat. But then, I’m always excited for someone to come in and shake things up, to help me think differently. That’s why you do feedback screenings. That’s why you bring other editors into the room to take a look and to make you think about things from a different angle.
How was it on Rules Don’t Apply?
When I came on, so much of it was working really well from the first assembly, but I did want to strengthen the love story between Frank and Marla and make their attraction more evident early in the film so that it paid off later. I started by going through all of the scenes and looking for little moments where we could build up glances between them or find little raindrops before the storm of that budding relationship.
There were a few storylines going on at the same time as well?
The story takes place over a long period of time — you’ve got Warren Beatty playing Howard Hughes, you’re dealing with a young love story, you’re dealing with an incredible supporting cast, all of whom could be bigger characters or smaller characters. When you come in a little bit later, it’s often your job to help figure out which storylines or themes are going to become the main thrust of the movie.
So there are different definitions of co-editor?
Well, it varies every day. Some days Warren would want to work on a couple of different scenes, so one editor would take one and I would take the other. Sometimes you would have worked on a scene for a long time and somebody else would say, “Let me have a stab at that. I’ve got a different idea.” Sometimes we were all together in one room with one of us driving the Avid and the others offering a different set of eyes — eyes that aren’t staring at the timeline — and they’re looking at it side-by-side with the director, almost as a viewer instead of within the nitty-gritty of making the cut. We would take turns doing that.
You’ve got to check your ego at the door, I suppose? Everybody’s on the same team these days.
There’s no pecking order, and I think Billy Weber is really the one who sets that tone because he’s such a generous and experienced editor and man. There are people out in the industry that might be protective of their work versus letting anybody else touch it, but there’s none of that in any of the editing rooms that I’ve been fortunate enough to work in. Everybody’s respectful of each other.
On this film we had Billy, myself, Leslie Jones and Robin all working at the same time. You’ve got almost three generations of editors in that room, and to be treated as an equal really opens up your mind and your creativity. You feel the freedom to really present big ideas.
How is it collaborating with Warren?
He is such a unique guy. His favorite thing to do is to have a fight — he doesn’t want people who are just going to accept what he says. He wants a fiery debate, which can make people uncomfortable, but I’m okay with it. I actually really enjoyed that, especially when you realize he’s not taking it personally and neither should I. This is about making a movie the best that it can be. He wants people that are going to challenge him and push back.
So it’s part of his creative process?
Yes, it’s all about the discourse. If he has a strong point of view, he wants to argue it to make sure that he really believes it. And if you have a strong point of view, he wants you to be able to tell him why. I would say the fiercest fights led to him being most happy afterwards. At the end of the screaming, he would always say, “That was such a productive conversation. I’m so glad we did that!” He surrounds himself with people he knows he trusts. He knows that’s what he needs to make him as productive and as creative as he can be.
It’s been a long time since Warren directed a film, how did he react to the new technology?
He was thrilled with all of the new abilities of technology. This movie was shot on the Alexa, for the most part, and we did do a good amount of combining it will archival footage. This is a very modern movie in many ways, but it also has a distinctive throwback vibe. We had to try to marry those things without going overboard.
We resized frames, added a few push-ins, speed ramps, and so on. Ultimately, all of these tools just allowed him to explore the footage even more than he’s used to doing. He really loved taking advantage of new editorial opportunities that couldn’t have been done even 15 years ago, at least not as easily.
How do you organize things within the Avid Media Composer?
Any time I start a new job, I send a Google Doc to the assistant that specifies exactly how I want the project set up. It’s an evolution of things I’ve learned in different editing rooms over time.
For every scene, I have a bin with a frame view. If the bin is the size of my monitor, I should be able to see all clips in that one view without scrolling. Each set-up is separated from each other, so I can see very quickly, “Oh there are four takes of that shot, there are four takes of that shot, there are three takes of that one.” I have the assistant prepare three sequences: one that’s just a pure string-out of all of the clips, so I can, in one sequence, scrub through everything that’s there. I do a string-out “clean,” which is when you take out all the slates and you take out all the director’s talking, so I can be impartial and just look at the footage. Then I usually have one more sequence that’s just circle takes that the director chose on set. Then I go through and I make a select reel based off of everything that I watch. That’s the basic bin set-up.
For films that have multiple editors, organization is really important because somebody else has to be able to understand how your work is organized. You have to be able to find things that you did a year ago.
Any special tricks, like speed ramps, sound effects, transitions? I’m imagining that changes per project?
Yeah, it’s pretty unique to the project. There are a lot of editors who have specific effects that they go back to over and over again in their own bin. I’ve got a few of those, but I almost always end up tailoring them and sometimes just starting from scratch. I go on the hunt for the right effect when I need it.
I’ve gotten pretty adept at tailoring the built-in effects to my needs as they come up, but people who use those effects all the time are working on more crazy action or stylized films because they’ve got a lot more demand for those than when you’re working on character-driven content.
Do you typically work with a template from a colorist, or do you do any temp color corrections yourself?
Most of the films have a look that the DP has already applied, and I do tweaking as needed. If we come up with a creative reason for color correction, I’ll do a sketch. I do a lot of work with sound, but with color, it just depends. If it needs to be changed in order to understand what the idea is or if we’re screening it for somebody that we don’t trust to be able to see what it is without color correction, then of course we’re going to go in and we’re going to tweak it. I’ve worked on a film where all the exteriors were really magenta, so we came up with our kind of default fix to be applied to all of those shots.
Can you elaborate on the sound part?
I cut as much for sound as I do for picture. I think people grossly underestimate the influence that sound has on how you watch a movie. I’m not a sound designer, but I try my best to provide a sketch for when we go into that next phase so the sound designer has a pretty clear idea of what we’re going for. Then, of course, they use their creativity to expand and do their own thing.
How do you work with your assistant editors? Do you encourage them to edit, or are they strictly technical?
It depends on the project and on the timeframe of the project. In the beginning, the priority is on getting everything set up. Then the priority is on helping me build a first sound pass after we’ve gotten an assembly. They help bring in effects and to smooth over things I’ve sketched out. Sometimes they’re just gathering effects for me and sometimes they’re cutting them themselves. Sometimes we’re kind of tossing them back and forth. I do a rough pass and I ask them to mix it, clean up the levels, add in a couple accents here and there. Once we’re through with that we kind of have at least a ground floor for sound to cut with.
When given the opportunity, I love to let my assistants get creative. I let them take a stab at scenes, or at least have them be present in the room to give feedback. When the director isn’t present, I rely a lot on my assistant just to check in and say, “Hey, is this crazy?” or try to engage them as much as I can in that creative process. It all just depends on the demands of the project and the experience level of the assistant.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Film is a collaborative art form, and in order to help a director do their best work, you need to be their friend, their antagonist, their therapist, their partner. Whatever it takes is what your job is. I was so fortunate to learn an enormous amount from Warren, but also from my fellow editors. I hope everybody has as much fun watching this crazy little movie as we did making it.
Finally, I’d just love to say that working with Warren will undoubtedly be one of the most cherished experiences of my life. Reputations be damned, he’s a kind, brilliant and uncompromising artist who it was endlessly inspiring to spend so much time with. I’ll forever be grateful I had the opportunity to both work for him and to call him a friend.
Main Image: Robin Gonsalves, Warren Beatty and Brian Scofield.