How To’s

Editing Like an Oscar Winner: Why Learn Avid Media Composer?

by NYFA Instructor Igor Torgeson

Avid Editing

With a new semester beginning, students at NYFA campuses are starting their first introduction to Avid’s Media Composer system.  Hard drives are being formatted, project directories are being created, and folks everywhere are wondering to themselves “What is YCbCr anyway?”

As Post Production instructors, we often get the asked how Media Composer became the software of choice at the New York Film Academy. I can only assume that question is also asked at the many film schools where Media Composer is the required software.

This uniform approach to editing software comes from three basic facts about Media Composer that have been consistent since the 1990’s and look to continue to be true for at least the next five to ten years.

1. Avid Media Composer is the Industry Standard Editing Software.

All of the films nominated the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2018, as well as all the films nominated for Best Editing for 2018, were edited using Avid Media Composer.

If you’re going to be working in feature films or episodic television, Media Composer is simply the standard for editing software.  Post facilities are set up to use Media Composer and that is the expected workflow.

2. Proficiency in Avid Media Composer Translates to Proficiency in Other Editing Platforms

Students sometimes find the first few sessions with media composer a bit challenging, as the interface does very little to inform you what everything is and what it does. This is a legacy of the software’s creation by engineers for technically-inclined individuals.

The thing to remember, however, is that all the other Non-Linear Editing software on the market is at least in some part inspired by or reacting to Media Composer. That means the general workflow of every platform is the same.  Media gets into the software. A window allows the editor to view and listen to the media.  The editor chooses the media to include in the show and places it in a timeline, which can be viewed in another window.  This is the same in every platform!

Once an editor becomes comfortable with this process in Avid Media Composer, moving to other platforms becomes easier, as the switch is simply a matter of finding the same tools in the new software, as well as understanding which tools the new platform has automated or eliminated.

3. Avid Editors Earn More Than Editors On Other Platforms

Of course, success as an editor is first and foremost a result of talent, skill, and experience — whatever the platform. Nevertheless, the data shows that there is a positive difference in income for Avid editors. For students hoping to move into editing, or at least have a gig that can pay well between other projects, Media Composer is the clear choice.  According to Payscale.com, the median nationwide salary for an editor with Avid skills is over $50,000.  For an editor with Premiere skills, $37,475. In Payscale’s survey, Premiere editors topped out at $53,727, top Avid editors made $105,126!

According to Glassdoor.com, Avid Editors in major markets, depending on experience, can expect even higher salaries, getting to over $135,000 annually. The same site currently lists Premiere Editor positions for $40,000 to $51,000.

For gigs and on an hourly basis, Avid Editors expect between $45 and $75 an hour.  Final Cut Pro Editors fare even worse — Glassdoor currently lists a Final Cut Pro Editing position for $20-$22 an hour.

As we saw above, once an editor learns Avid, it’s relatively easy to shift to a new platform.  So not only does an editor have an economic advantage by knowing Avid, in the absence of Avid jobs, it’s easy to shift to another software, even if it means a lower rate for a while.

Sweeteners

So with those three basic facts in mind, Avid Media Composer has been the clear choice for editing software.  Avid has also sweetened the deal a bit for students and New York Film Academy in particular.  First, Media Composer is available to students for about $10 a month, which is an enormous discount off the retail price.  Second, Avid has partnered with NYFA to make us an Avid Learning Partner, which allows us to offer our students the possibility of earning Avid User Certification (if they successfully pass the exam).  

With those things together, our goal continues to be giving students a thorough training in Post Production, on industry standard software, with a competitive advantage when entering the marketplace.  And maybe even a passing knowledge of YCbCr.

6 Tips for Working With an Editor

As a director, you may have trouble putting your baby in another’s hands. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about your project for years. But working with an editor will be a vital part of being a professional filmmaker, and learning how an editor works can help your film be its best. Here we offer six tips for establishing a relationship with the person who holds the keys to turning your countless hours of hard-earned footage into a film.

  1. Choose your editor wisely.

You will likely be spending a lot of time with your editor, and there may be tense moments of disagreement, so be sure you choose one you like! It’s important that you get along as well as respect their work. As quoted in this MovieMaker article, Michelle Morgan (L.A. Times) gives this important bit of wisdom: “You should never hire an editor that you don’t want to sit and have a beer with.”

  1. Let your editor do her job.

Perhaps the biggest mistake a director can make is to micromanage the editing process. Besides the fact that you’ll be stepping on the toes of your editor, who is an artist in her own right, you’ll be less likely to allow for the objectivity of a person who has come to the project relatively late, and who can look at it with fresh eyes.

  1. Learn how to edit.

This may sound contradictory to the above, but learning what’s possible in the editing process can help you avoid missteps. “I love working with directors who have an understanding of editing,” editor Joi McMillon told MovieMaker, “because I feel like a lot of times when they ask me to do something, and I say, ‘I would love to do that but you don’t necessarily have the material to make that happen,’ they understand.”

  1. Give your editor a room of her own.

Having a quiet room of one’s own is crucial to the creative process, and this is particularly true for your editor. Perhaps this is your first film and super low budget, but packing your editor into a space with lots of distractions is going to hinder her work.

  1. Remember the editor is there to serve the story too.

If you find yourself constantly doubting your editor and question her decisions, it may help to remember that she is also there to serve the story. You did not bring her on board to be an automaton, but as a skilled artist who can serve your story best if she is allowed to work with some degree of freedom.

  1. Give postproduction room to breathe.

Rushing the postproduction process will likely cause thoughtless decisions to impact your film. As The 6 Stages of Editing as a Film Director hints, “Never be afraid to let the first cut ‘rest’ for a few days so everyone involved can see it with fresh eyes.”

Filmmaking is a stressful, deadline-driven business, but you will do your film a disservice if you do not allow a little breathing room, so that you and your editor are not forced to make snap decisions that you’ll regret when you see the finished product on a big screen, with an audience to witness!

From Rough Cut to Director’s Cut to Final Cut: How a Film Transforms Over Time

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There’s a reason why filmmakers don’t just toss together the footage they took and call it a day. This unprepared footage is called rough for a reason — it’s far from what you’d expect to see as the finalized product on the big screen.

While both pre-production and production come with their own challenges, it’s during post-production that all that work is assembled into something high-quality and presentable. Thus, it’s vital that digital editors do their best to turn that rough cut into what will be shown to audiences worldwide.

The following are the four main tasks that an assistant editor and/or digital editor working on a film is responsible for:

1. Logging

Logging is in the domain of the assistant editor. In filmmaking and television production, it’s common for the amount of footage shot to be several times longer than what will actually be used on the final cut. To avoid wasting time searching for specific source shots, the very first stage of post-production involves the assistant editor sorting all the dailies (raw, unedited footage) so that they’re properly labeled, organizing all the footage so that the editor can work more efficiently to make a cut. To help the editor, especially since this is likely the first time they’re looking at the film, directors and cinematographers also will leave notes onto takes to help give context. Remember: films are rarely shot in the order that the movie will actually go.

2. The Editor’s Cut

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The editor’s first major task is to start assembling the footage in an order that flows smoothly story-wise. This involves selecting all the best audio and visual material from the dailies and using them to put together each scene. Today’s’ big films usually have an editor doing this even when filming is still taking place. This way, directors and producers can check out the editor’s rough scenes and decide if additional footage needs to be shot. This is also the editor’s opportunity to start trimming off some of the extra footage that’s currently making the film longer than intended.

3. The Director’s Cut

During filming, the director will try finding time to join the editor and offer his suggestions. But once shooting has ended, the director can then focus entirely on working with the editor to refine the cut of the film. This stage, which can last anywhere from 10 weeks to several months, is when the director and editor will reorder, remove, and change every scene and shot with extreme attention to detail. It’s also their chance to discover plot holes and missing shots that require new scenes to be scheduled for filming.

4. The Final Cut

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Once the editor, producer, and designer are satisfied with the current cut, the sound, music, and title designers will add to the edit. After music and sound effects are added to the cut and everyone is satisfied, it is sent in for an exact copy to be created. This final cut is what people across the globe will see on their theater and television screens.

Excited about digital editing? Learn more in NYFA’s digital editing programs.

What You Can Learn from Edward Dmytryk’s 7 Rules of Cutting

Edward Dmytryk is arguably one of the most influential directors in movie history, with over 50 films to his credit. He was nominated for an Oscar for his film “Crossfire” (1947) and worked with big name stars like John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, and Humphrey Bogart. But you may not know that before directing films, Dmytryk was a film editor.

In 1984, Edward Dmytryk wrote “On Film Editing,” which stipulated seven basic rules of cutting. He used his own experience to pave the way for future editors. These rules are an excellent resource for New York Film Academy students in our digital editing programs. The examples below will show how his rules are still used in contemporary films today. While the technology behind film and editing has changed since the mid-1900s, it cannot be denied that Dmytryk’s style is timeless.

Rule 1: Never make a cut without a positive reason.

Long scenes have the potential to be “the boring part” of any movie. Nothing is worse than a section that drags on with meaningless dialogue and no action. However, Dmytryk was never afraid of a long shot, stating “a cut should never be made only because the cutter feels the prevailing cut is too long.” In fact, long shots have become more popular in contemporary films. For example, the entire film of “Birdman,” which won Best Film, Best Director, and Best Cinematography, is designed to look like a single shot. Edits are made to carefully support the illusion of a continuous track shot, and are only made in support of the overall stylistic goal.

Rule 2: When undecided about the exact frame to cut on, cut long rather than short.

In order to maintain fluidity in a film, cuts must be as precise as possible — especially in action films where two shots will be fast-paced and must be perfectly timed. The editor must have plenty of film to work with when deciding where to make that pivotal cut. For this reason, the camera will continue to roll for a few seconds after the action is over and before the director says “cut.” Director Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill”) knew this and so did his actors. That is why they often used to say “Hi, Sally” to the camera while filming to say hello to Sally Menke, Tarantino’s long-time film editor, who edited all of his films until her death in 2010. This is why the cast and crew used to greet her after a long take, knowing that she would see these scenes and cut them for the perfect action sequence. They wanted to give her plenty of extra footage to work with, knowing that an editor will often look to cut long rather than short.

Rule 3: Whenever possible cut “in movement.”

While transitions between scenes will sometimes require a few frames of no action, action is always preferred. A film can be pushed along scene-by-scene if there is an action to keep the audience engaged. For example, the urgency of “Apollo 13” (the 1995 Best Editing winner) is heightened in the scene below. After the flight director (Ed Harris) explains the challenge, the scene immediately cuts to the scientists dumping materials on a table. This movement shot is more urgent than a scene of them sitting and discussing the problem.

Also see the scene below from “American Hustle” (nominated for Best Editing in 2013). The sequence of the characters all going to the event is made as a montage, and each cut goes to a scene of action (i.e. Jeremy Renner lighting a cigarette, Jennifer Lawrence exiting the car, and Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams walking through the smoke). This keeps the scene moving a builds tension to the following scenes.

Rule 4: The “fresh” is preferable to the “stale.”

Dmytryk understood that a film must cater to its audience. Regarding his fourth rule, he said “if it is necessary to add a number of frames before the actor enters the scene, the viewer has, at least, a new setting to examine and integrate, which serves to keep his interest alive.” In the clip from “Titanic” (Best Editing winner in 1997) where Rose first calls Brock, there are quite a few seconds of filming before the camera focuses on an actor. Further in the clip, when the movie transitions to a ship, there is a shot of the ship from afar to show the audience where the film has moved.

This is also particularly true of films by Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”), which heavily focus on setting.. See the scene before from “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (nominated for Best Editing in 2014). As the two protagonists (Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori) go down to meet the police, there are several seconds of film with no one speaking. This allows the audience to take in the new setting and also shows Edward Norton’s character’s consternation with the arrest.

Rule 5: All scenes should begin and end with continuing action.

The movement of a scene is one of its most important parts. Whether it is a simple transition or a tense action sequence, the actor’s movement must be seamless throughout. For example, if you are showing an actor entering a room, there must be continuous movement from the cut filmed from outside the room to the cut filmed from inside the room. The example below is from “The Matrix” (Best Editing winner in 1999), where the protagonist (Keanu Reeves) must escape his office. The scene is not in one continuous shot, so the editor must create continuity and make the actions look the same throughout each take, editing down the shot so that it looks like the actor never stops moving.

Also see the scene below from “Spotlight” (2015), which was nominated for Best Editing. As Mark Ruffalo’s character goes from the cab to the office, his movements are continuous.

Rule 6: Cut for proper values rather than proper “matches.”

It is important to remember while discussing these rules that Dmytryk was also a director. He understood that the film itself was the most important product. He believed that “the film’s dramatic requirements should always take precedence over the mere aesthetics of editing.” Dmytryk references a scene in his film “Murder, My Sweet” (1944), where a flashing light does not match up between takes. However he understood that the flashing light added to the drama of the scene and decided to leave it in. 

At the end of the day, Dmytryk stressed that the substance of the film was paramount to all of his rules. His techniques are important. However, these rules should be used only to make a film great, not to make a film perfect. In the last line of his book he states, “This book has persistently stressed technique and has urged the pursuit of perfection in its use. But the ‘human situation,’ in all its guises, is what good films are all about, and technical skill counts for nothing if it is used only to manufacture films which have little to do with humanity.”

What have you learned about your own projects after reading Dmytryk’s editing rules? How will you use them in future products to create a brilliant film? Let us know in the comments below.

If you’re ready to learn more about digital editing, check out NYFA’s digital editing programs!

A Beginner’s Guide to Film Editing Vocabulary

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It was Francis Ford Coppola who said, “The essence of cinema is editing.” If you’re an aspiring film  editor, you know your craft matters — and you know it also matters how you speak and think about your craft. We’ve compiled a guide to help you beef up your terminology and learn to communicate about editing like a pro. The following are some fundamental digital editing terms  that editors should know: your concise guide to an editing vocabulary.

Cut

A transition where one shot is instantly followed by another.

Continuity Editing

Visual editing where shots are cut together in a clear and linear flow of uninterrupted action. This type of cutting seeks to maintain a continuous sense of time and space.

Continuity Error

When the action or elements of a scene don’t match across shots. For example, when a character breaks a glass window but in a later shot the window is shown undamaged.

Cross Cutting

Technique used to give the illusion that two story lines of action are happening at the same time by rapidly cutting back and forth between them.

Cutaway

The interruption of a continuously filmed action with a shot that’s peripherally related to the principal action.

Dissolve

When the end of one shot overlaps the start of the next one to create a gradual scene transition.

Editing

The process of taking raw footage to select and combine shots to create a complete motion picture.

Establishing Shot

A shot that gives viewers an idea of where the scene is taking place. These usually involve a shot from a long distance, such as a bird’s eye view.

Eyeline Match

A technique based on the idea that viewers want to see what on-screen characters are seeing. For example, if a character is looking intently at an off-screen object, the following shot will be of that object.

Fade

A visual effect used to indicate a change in place and time. This involves a gradual brightening as a shot opens or a gradual darkening as the shot goes black or to another color. Sound also fades in and out to convey the change.

Iris

A wipe that takes the shape of a shrinking or growing circle, depending on if the scene is opening or ending. Rarely used today but very common during the silent era.

J Cuts

An editing technique that allows the audience to first hear audio from a shot, and then see it.

Jump Cut

An abrupt cut that creates a lack of continuity between shots by leaving out parts of the action.

L Cut

An editing changeover between one shot and another in film, where the visual and audio shift at different times. Also called a split edit.

Matched Cut

A cut joining two shots with matching compositional elements. This helps to establish strong continuity of action. One of the more notable examples of this technique is from a famous scene in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Montage

A sequence of shots assembled in juxtaposition of one another to create an emotional impact, condense a story,  or convey an idea. A famous example is “Psycho’s” shower scene.

Roll

Graphics or text that moves up or down the screen. This technique is typically used for credits by having text move from bottom to top.

Rough Cut

The first editing pass done for a film. (The former sentence is not entirely accurate as an Assembly Cut is the first editing pass done for a film, but it depends on how one defines editing, so I think this is o.k.).  A rough cut receives further polishing and editing before making its way out to audiences.

Sequence Shot

A long take composed of one shot that extends for an entire scene or sequence. Usually requires complex camera movements and action. Here is a notable example from GoodFellas. (This isn’t a term that is particularly important for an editor to know.)

Shot Reverse Shot

The alternating of over-the-shoulder-shots, usually used during a conversation between two characters.

Sweetening

The process of adding sound effects and music and/or enhancing the existing audio with effects.

Wipe

The transition from one shot to another with a visible pattern or element. No longer used in today’s films but very common in early cinema.

Any more important editing vocabulary items to add to our guide? Let us know in the comments below!

How To Use Dissolves

Nice dissolve from Spaceballs

No, that’s not a low resolution photo. It’s a dissolve from Spaceballs!

What are dissolves?

A dissolve is a classic editing technique used to transition between shots, typically shots that bridge two scenes together. As opposed to a straight cut from one shot to another, a dissolve involves the gradual transition from the first image to the next. When an image dissolves into view from a black screen, it is called a Fade In, and when an image dissolves into blackness, it is called a Fade Out.

Dissolves were traditionally created by superimposing two separate images with an optical printer. With modern nonlinear editing, the effect can be overlaid onto any two shots with simple software.

How should you dissolve?

A dissolve has two visual components, two tools an editor has to create the dissolve: the images involved, and the length of the dissolve. The length of a dissolve is typically no more than a second or two, but can be much longer if the shots run long enough to allow it. A slow dissolve is an artistic choice and usually has some meaning behind the somewhat rare decision to use it.

While any two images can technically be connected by a dissolve, there is usually a purpose to using it rather than a straight cut. A good editor will know when a dissolve is appropriate:

When should you dissolve?

Dissolves are often used to show the passage of time. While the end of a scene can cut directly to the beginning of the next, typically a dissolve will be a clue to the audience that, like the real-time, gradual transition, some time has passed by.

What is being dissolved is a visual choice by the director, another tool in her or his large array of filmmaking techniques. A match or graphic dissolve is no different than a match cut—the specific images are being connected by some narrative or thematic throughline. When a dissolve is used, it is typically adding a certain weight or resonance to this throughline. For instance, a gradual dissolve from a mother reading an Army telegram to a scene of her son’s funeral. Time has passed between his burial and when she first heard the news of her son’s death, but the dissolve allows the audience some time to figure out what the mother is reading before they actually see the funeral. Once the funeral has faded fully into the next shot and scene, the audience has not only discerned what they are seeing, but, in a small way, has shared the mother’s tragic realization.

Again, the length of the dissolve comes into play as an artistic tool of the director and/or editor. A short transition, maybe a second long, gets the point across and focuses more on the shock of the mother’s letter and the son’s passing. A longer transition becomes more about watching the mother’s facial reaction and following her internal dialogue not just through the scene, but also into the implied emotions in the time up to the funeral.

A specific type of match dissolve is a dissolve between faces. Dissolving from one face to another can have a narrative significance concerning the characters, or they can transition between two images of the same character, allowing the audience to see the change of emotion and context. One of the most famous examples of this comes at the end of Saving Private Ryan, when the story transitions from World War II to several decades later. While the dissolve from Matt Damon’s face to another actor portraying his older self was done using state-of-the-art computers, the technique is still the same one used since the Silent Era.

Dissolves can be used within a scene, for instance, a character pacing around the house to show the passage of time and their boredom during this time, or to show a character’s gradual cleaning of a garage. This is an in-scene montage. Dissolves can be used in traditional montages as well, in lieu of cuts, morphing from scene to scene in rapid succession.

Who uses dissolves?

Dissolves were very popular in classic cinema, but have since fallen out of favor by most modern editors. One reason for this is the influence of the French New Wave on emerging filmmakers, expanding the use of jump cuts. Jump cuts can be visually jarring, and it took a generation who had grown up on movies to be savvy enough to follow the transitions without complaint.

Likewise, as each generation grows up on faster paced and more innovative visual styles, movies have generally sped up in tone and movement. The slower transition of dissolves between scenes can look lethargic and antiquated, though if executed the right way they are usually accepted by an audience with no problem.

Even television sitcoms as recent as a few years ago would use dissolves that have since been replaced by jump cuts and rapid pan swipes. Early episodes of Seinfeld, a show that revolutionized three-camera sitcoms with its lightning pace, that use dissolves can make the scene feel like it’s from an entirely different show.

However, it’s the director’s and editor’s prerogative to use dissolves, and there is still a place for them in movies and television. For an artist and visual storyteller, going with your gut can never hurt, and if a dissolve feels right, it probably is. After all, everything is cyclical, and dissolves will probably be back in style sooner or later. You might even seem ahead of the curve.