HD Tips & Techniques: So You Want to Edit in HD

Frame rates, timecodes and color considerations should be settled before post


(click thumbnail)Jayme Wing works on Final Cut Pro at High Technology Video's facilities in Los Angeles. Telling someone how to edit in HD is like telling someone how to bake a cake. There are so many types of cake. Would you like to make a four-tiered wedding cake or German chocolate? Each flavor and design is approached quite differently even though they are both merely cake.

I've just finished producing my first independent feature, and I work with Jayme Wing on a daily basis with independent film projects. Together we'll tell you about several seemingly simple steps that can make you or quite literally, break you when editing in HD. These steps occur before post production even begins.

Step 1: Communicate with your editor before and during your shoot.

Let him or her know what the desired outcome of your project is and work together to come up with the best way to capture the raw material. You need to discuss whether or not you'll ever be taking the finished product to film or to broadcast.

If it's not destined for film, do you really need or want to shoot at 24 fps? Would 30 fps be a better choice? For certain projects such as documentaries, sports or reality shows the answer will likely be, yes.

It makes life in post production much more pleasant (and cheap!) if you edit in the same frame rate in which you shot your footage. There are several frame rate flavors to choose from: 60, 59.94, 24, 23.976 (aka: 23.98). You and your editor should have this part definitively decided upon before principal photography begins.

Step 2: If you're shooting with multiple cameras, be prepared to tell your editor how the cameras were synched. It's important for your editor to know if you used a lock box or jam synched the cameras. He also needs to know if your audio engineer received the same timecode as well.

Here's where a little timecode 101 is valuable. There's a common trend among independent film makers to use time-of-day timecode. It's a valuable tool if you're shooting in a reality environment and you've got two or more cameras shooting in different locations. You can easily show simultaneous action when you post the story.

There is however, a common mistake made time and again that hurts these film makers in post. It's easy to shoot spurts of action all day long and wrap at the end of the day with a tape that still has let's say, 20 minutes of available space left on the end of it.

To save money, the tape is left in the camera and shooting begins again the next day. This results in a tape that has two identical timecode sequences on it or has a higher timecode sequence at the beginning of the tape than at the end, resulting in a nightmare in post.

If time-of-day code is the method of choice, a new tape must be started at the beginning of each day.

From an editor's perspective, it is preferred that continuous timecode be recorded in the field. This means that tape one starts at hour one and tape two starts at hour two. This system ensures that 23 tapes will cycle through before hour one timecode shows up again. It's a quick and easy way to reference footage to its master tape. The use of a smart slate generator/reader provides yet another way to double check accuracy.

Step 3: Directors who are used to working in film and are transitioning to HD will enjoy the fact that the Sony HD Cine Alta Camera for example, records two channels of audio.

If the budget is really tight, two mics can be fed to separate audio channels in the camera directly and mixed in post.

Recording audio to the camera, even when your audio engineer is recording to DA88 or eight-track DVD, is valuable to the editor who does the dialogue editing, foley and final mix. We've seen instances where a piece of dialogue or effect had a problem and the camera master was the best source to use for the fix.

Directors who want to hear all audio channels as part of their dailies can do so simply.

The two channels of audio that are synched to video via the camera commonly appear on the tape that is outputted from the nonlinear editing system. An eight-track DVD Ram recording with its own Timecode locked to the master is provided for the additional tracks.

Step 4: One of the most beautiful things about HD is the ability to see what you're recording while you're in the field. Having a trained HD expert in the field with you seems like a big, unnecessary expense up front to many independent filmmakers, but trust us-it's worth every penny. Images that are captured well on a technical level in the field offer a world of opportunities in post.

It's advisable to always budget for a colorist to visit your movie and get the most out of what you captured in the field. Reality says that not all of us can afford it. In those cases, you can do a good amount of color timing electronically in the field and save yourself some cash in post.

Be careful if you take this route though. It's easy to make mistakes and lock yourself into an image you're not happy with. Avoid clipping whites or crushing blacks at all costs.

Step 5: Downconvert your HD images in letterbox format. It provides the perfect place for you to put a timecode window burn without covering any of your material. If you want to give a demo of your rough cut to someone and you don't want the timecode to be seen, a simple wipe will alleviate it from view. (It may take a little while to render it.)

Step 6: Step 4 is a warning. Dailies without a timecode window burn = formula for disaster! More and more directors are requesting that dailies not contain a timecode window burn. The window burn timecode directly from the master is the most accurate way to identify a frame. It is possible for QuickTime files in Final Cut Pro to be incorrect. In one glance, this problem can be identified by your editor and a simple keystroke will re-set the code in FCP.

We heartily congratulate the maverick spirit of independent film makers and broadcasters who are embracing the art of HD. Welcome to our world. We hope this helps you plant your feet on solid ground and we look forward to seeing what your creativity brings to bear.