What Editors Want in 2008

Every year our annual Editor Roundup asks digicutters in various facets of our craft where they would like post-production technology to go and what would make their editing life more creative. As usual, this year’s harvest reaped a bountiful crop.

I caught up with Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky) on his way to a screening of his “Terra Nova: The Antarctic Suite” at the Sundance Film Festival. Miller used Sony Creative Software’s Vegas Pro 8 NLE system to edit elements for what he calls, “An acoustic portrait of a rapidly changing continent.” As a work in progress, Miller performed “Terra Nova” live before the audience in Park City, Utah, by mixing the audio and cutting the video elements as the images danced across the screen. You can catch the trailer at www.djspooky.com/art/terra_nova.php.

Miller would like all edit companies to get together on their hotkey assignments so every system could use the same keyboard shortcuts.

“Standardizing hotkeys would let every editor move through loading files and selecting clips much faster on any system,” he said. “Universal keyboard assignments would give us a common editing protocol we could all share.”

Miller will have his “Terra Nova” presentation distilled onto a DVD later this year.

Michael Kolowich edits with Adobe Premiere Pro on an eight-processor 1 Beyond Octoflex at his DigiNovations facility in Concord, Mass., where he is under contract to edit all the “tactical” video for the Romney presidential campaign over Mitt TV (http://mittromney.permissiontv.com). He is concerned about the avalanche of digital data editors have to wrestle with today.

(click thumbnail)Sammy Jackson, producer/editor at Britt-Helen“We are acquiring a couple of hundred gigabytes of material every day, so we need new tools to deal with the explosion of in-house storage requirements,” he said. “As we move from cheap linear tape to relatively costly solid-state memory cards and direct-to-disk hard drive modules, it is too expensive to keep all those cards sitting on a shelf in case your clients need to access their content in the future.”

In addition, Kolowich said editors can also download unlimited amounts of content from the Web. He asks where the tools are for independent companies to catalog it, manage it, and share it between multiple workstations.

Sammy Jackson is very satisfied with his Media 100 HD system as a producer/editor of more than 200 cable documentary shows for Britt-Helen in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, where they produce series for cable outlets like Arts & Entertainment, The History Channel and Discovery. But since Britt-Helen has to deal with a wide variety of editors with differing skill levels, what Sammy would like to see is an engineering grid of technical parameters that could be shared, like a configuration file, between disparate systems.

“Young editors are not engineering wizards, and we need to give them standardized guidelines to make sure they output the same quality level no matter what NLE system they are using,” Jackson said. “This engineering grid would specify ingest procedures, output requirements, and help wrangle their source material in a consistent way from system to system. It would also contain the delivery specs required by different networks.”

(click thumbnail)Avi Youabian, editor for the show “Big Shots”Avi Youabian has cut a number of primetime dramas such as “Cold Case” for CBS and “Big Shots” on ABC using an Avid Media Composer Adrenaline. He also edited last year’s Oscar-winning short, “West Bank Story,” directed by Ari Sandel. Youabian has obviously seen Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” because at the top of his wish list is touchscreen gestural editing.

“I’d like to put my fingers on a clip on a timeline, stretch it, and physically move it around,” he said. “It would be kind of like the tactical feel of cutting film which our craft has lost contact with. We’ve got it on the iPhone, now we need it in the edit bay.”


Veteran multi-Emmy winning director Jan Nickman has just finished editing “Living Temples” (www.living-temples.com) on a Final Cut Pro 6 system at Third Planet Productions (formerly Third Planet Pictures) in Seattle. It’s a fusion of visual images of the American Southwest with original music by composer David Lanz. Nickman has been dealing with post since he was one of the co-founders of the venerable Miramar Productions in 1985, and is frustrated with the difficulty of getting today’s digital systems to work together. He knows the technicians at Apple can make sure the software in his Final Cut Pro 6 system functions properly, but how does he get it to interface with every new video format and other NLEs?

(click thumbnail)Jan Nickman, creative director of Third Planet Productions
So Nickman would like a “Video Geek Squad” handholding service that could help him knock down the black walls of technology that he and his colleagues are constantly running into.

“It is not the edit system manufacturer’s job to know how to handle real world challenges of post in a constantly evolving production environment,” he said. “We need a central go-to clearinghouse of knowledge we can call in emergencies.”

Patrick Ready is chief operating officer of Pivotal Post, a rental facility in North Hollywood, Calif., with remote offices in New York and London, which specialize in providing the latest technology in edit systems for productions around the world. The most urgent need he sees for the post-production world in general is to get the TV networks to agree on a “broadcast quality” high-definition standard.

“Some networks watch their standards closely, others are more forgiving,” he said. “Some even talk about the potential of truly uncompressed 1080p HD that would force us to stay in an offline/online paradigm. But with the high quality of the most recent compression technologies such as Avid’s DNxHD or Apple’s ProRes 422, it should be possible to edit and deliver shows out of the same system. We just need producers who are bold enough to try.”

(click thumbnail)Patrick Ready, chief operating officer at Pivotal PostReady knows that even 2K video editing capability is just around the corner for mainstream productions. But is all that data necessary for broadcast quality delivery?

“Home HDTVs can take in a variety of broadcast signals and convert them up to 1080p for display,” Ready said. “So why can’t the networks agree on a standard level of compression that will satisfy the audience’s needs without sacrificing image quality while still being posted from beginning to end out of the same post production system?”

This is an idea whose time may have already arrived. I personally know of at least one primetime show that is regularly delivering in DNxHD 145. Chances are that idea came from a forward-looking post-production pro who was willing to push the boundaries of digital post.

If editors can dream it, the industry can deliver. Maybe we will see moves toward fulfilling these wishes at the upcoming NAB Show. Stay tuned.