Archive for August, 2010

Project Arbiter – the EDIT.

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

ProjectArbiter Homepage

Project Arbiter was the most ambitious editing project I’ve had the pleasure to tackle. I wrote about my experience being an on-set editor (including the joy of dealing with RED RAW!) in a previous post you can read here.

When principle photography was wrapped, I was excited to get my hands on the rest of the footage. I knew this was going to be a massive undertaking; the footage alone takes up almost 3TB of hard drive space!

Before production even began, Mike and I discussed what he was looking for in the edit. He’s had a lot of editing experience himself (which he loves to remind me about!), so it was nice to be able to communicate clearly what he had in mind. What he mainly emphasized is that he wanted the viewer to experience a “roller-coaster” of emotions… referring to the pacing of films like “The Dark Knight” and “No Country For Old Men”, in which story and characters build up slowly to engage viewers and then take them down an unexpected plunge, only to stabilize and then grip them again with a new twist! He really envisioned strength of character development balanced out with carnage and mayhem that the Arbiter brings.

I appreciated this approach because it’s way too easy to be caught up in the wow-factor of the concept and eye-candy of visual effects, especially with how gorgeous the footage already looks! Casting and performances were also on point, which gave me several options to carefully construct the backbone of the film: the story. Now as the editor, I take pride in knowing that how I piece together the film is absolutely critical to the success of that, so I took this role on very seriously.

keeping the footage under control

keeping the footage under control

Organizing the Onslaught:
I spent the first week simply reviewing and logging all of the footage available. If there’s anything I’ve learned in all my years editing is that the more organized you are now, the less headache there is later. I meticulously screened through every clip and created columns for all kinds of info to help organize myself.

Since we were expecting a 20-25 minute film, I also decided to split up the edit into several sequences. It allowed me to focus on the emotion of a scene or two without getting overwhelmed with others.

Cutting begins:
Now that I had all of the clips neatly organized in front of me, it was time to get cuttin’!

From the beginning, Mike pushed for a very aggressive schedule to get through post (full rough cut in just a few weeks!). He just wanted to make sure we didn’t get stuck in “post-hell.” So did I! I’ve heard about this place and it’s where many indie flicks go to die. It’s an often under-estimated part of the process and without proper preparation and continuing momentum, it would just become a statistic. Although it meant I had to put other projects on hold, I knew it was a smart move because it also allowed me to give 100% of my focus to the film.

tension in the war room

tension in the war room

The first scene I tackled was an intense confrontation between two characters, Heinrich and Reiner. I can’t get into too much detail about the choices I made in the edit, but I found that even when playing with a relatively simple dialogue scene, cutting can be really fun because timing is so crucial to establish pivotal emotional moments. I showed Mike a quick rough cut of the scene, and he was pretty happy with the direction it was going in.

But what’s Project Arbiter without the battle sequence? This was the part of the film that demanded complete focus and attention because so many things were going on. It’s a hectic and complex part of the film that involved parallel editing, and trying to make the pieces fit seamlessly was a tough puppy. Order of shots, continuity, timing, and knowing when to cut back and forth between sequences in the story all had to be taken into account. Also, because of the magnitude of VFX shots that were going to be in the completed film, I only had footage plates available in which CGI elements were to be placed in, which forced me to imagine the timing and movement of all of the tank and plane shots. Eventually I created placeholder shots with text like, “TANK!” and “EXPLOSION!” which helps when viewing the cut.

cutting the action/battle sequence!

cutting the action/battle sequence!

I continued forward and hammered out scene after scene. Within a few weeks, I was able to screen for Mike (Writer/Director), Vicki (Producer), and Jesse (VFX) a full rough cut of the film. We editors love to emphasize “rough” because it’s all too easy for people to be overly critical about it (and of course for us to become overly defensive)! But this was understood all-around that I had yet to really get my hands dirty. Still, they were able to offer overall thoughts and suggestions about what to keep in mind when I go back in to fine-tune it.

The next several weeks after that was a series of screenings, revisions and fine-tuning. I’m pretty stoked for the fine cut I handed over to Mike. I knew I had successfully fine-tuned the cut to his liking, judging by his reactions to the movie, the story, the actors, and not the edit itself. One of the comments he made while watching the latest cut: “Now we’ve got a MOVIE!”

From there, we tag-teamed on the final cut by splitting up the sequences and trading project files back and forth. We also brought in a few more crew members to view the edit and offer more feedback. It’s always interesting to observe how fresh eyes react to the film; they often spot things that are hard to catch because we are so familiar with the footage.

iChat theater for online conferencing

iChat theater for online conferencing

Online Conferencing:
One of the cool new features of Final Cut Pro 7 that we took full advantage of is iChat theater. This allows people to have a live view of what’s playing in the project timeline via iChat. Though it doesn’t play at full-res (understandably), it was still a great way to conference online while watching the edit together since we live 90 minutes away… And at the end of a long work day in full San Francisco traffic, it was helpful to my energy for discussion. It also allowed me to make revisions to an edit in real-time and show Mike the result within seconds. This allowed a very efficient flow of experimenting with ideas for cuts!

Reflection in the Director/Editor relationship:
I learned a lot about the director/editor relationship in this project. As editor, I know it’s my job to fully realize the director’s vision, but at the same time, I found it important to be able to construct the story in the best possible way, even if that meant offering alternate ways of cutting a scene that he didn’t expect. I mentioned earlier about Mike’s background in editing and how it helped our communication. Of course we’d butt heads sometimes, but it was all part of the process. Some things he liked and some things he didn’t. Because of his familiarity with the craft, it forced me to work harder in thinking of new ways to structure sequences that I could present to him. Some of the most rewarding moments came when he said, “that’s interesting you decided to cut it that way – it totally works!”

Now that picture is locked and VFX has officially started, I can rest knowing the film is in good hands. The potential for this film is limitless. I must say, it’s already impressive as a cut and I can only imagine how much more of an impact this will make when all color grading, visual effects, sound design and score fully kick in! I’m proud to have been an integral part of this team that is bringing Mike’s baby to life. ENGAGE!!!

Learn more behind-the-scenes from the talented crew and stay updated on the latest happenings on the official Project Arbiter blog!

Beeswax Behind-The-Scenes and the Screening

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Seeing our finished film on the big screen was rewarding. It was very well-received! I’m really proud of what we pulled off in such a short amount of time. I feel blessed to have been a part of such a talented, passionate, and hilarious cast and crew! And I think Jacob’s writing skills were even better showcased this time around. Each character was well-developed and all setups paid off… no filler. All-around funny, solid story!

I would love to post and share the film with you, but we do have bigger plans to shop the film to various festivals around the country, and keeping it offline will maintain it’s exclusivity.

The “Best of SJ 48HFP” will take place about a month from now, and that’s when they will announce the award winners. Win or lose, this is still going to be one of those memorable weekends that brought a group of like-minded, talented, and passionate people together and pushed them to accomplish their best. I always end up working with good people and learning something new.

In the meantime, please enjoy these behind-the-scenes and screening photos!

48 HFP 2010 – Lessons Learned

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

I started writing this the very night I arrived home from San Jose after successfully completing and turning in our film.

I was still high on the adrenaline of the weekend and wanted to make sure I wrote down everything I learned… as well as ways to improve the next time around. It’s a bit more technical than my usual blogs, but if anybody out there can take something from this, or share their own advice, it’s all worth it!

what worked?

– NETWORK DRIVE. allowed for easy sharing of files back and forth between sound, vfx, and editing departments. definitely a setup keeper. though sometimes had to unplug to get internet. not enough inputs.
– MULTIPLE COMPS FOR TRANSCODING. transcoding was usually done on two computers, mine and ben’s. ben setup file sharing, so that he could basically copy the original files to his computer, transcode them over to mine, and then copy the original files back to my computer. seemed to work pretty well.
– MERGE CLIPS FOR SYNCING. syncing by hand is the best way so you can ensure you’ve got through all of the clips. one headache is sometimes there would be “second sticks”… in which there was a problem with the first clap (either not loud enough, or not on camera, or both cameras weren’t rolling, etc.) so then i would get mixed up on where to set my marker and in point.
– EARLY START ON SOUND DESIGN. Sound design worked well. i exported an early cut for mike so he can start placing sfx and ambiance. then by the time i was waiting for the new footage, he brought over his fcp file with all the sound effects and opened it on my computer, copied from his sequence to my new one, and then shifted sound clips as needed.

what didnt? and suggestions for next time

– EXPORT. the biggest headache was exporting the movie. website wants SD, but Vincent was willing to accept HD, but only in H264! we edited in ProRes LT. of course, exporting the native editing format is the fastest method to export. but transcoding to H264 would’ve taken way too long. with the minutes ticking away, Ben brought up the idea of exporting to miniDV! but it had to be done a certain way. basically, the sequence settings had to be changed to a certain NTSC DV format, then printed to tape. i’m not sure if the original sequence had to be changed, or if a new sequence was created and then elements were copied and pasted. question: when Print to Video renders the timeline… will it take the same amount of time as rendering the timeline first before printing to tape?
– QMASTER. Qmaster sets up a sort of render farm that if we figured out how to make it work, would’ve been super beneficial. the transcode time for one minute of ProRes LT to H264 clocked in at almost 6 minutes. for an 8 minute film, that’s about 48 minutes. give it one hour to be sure. i wonder how fast it wouldve worked if QMASTER was up (basically splits up the render work between multiple computers).
– ASSISTANT EDITOR FOR LOGGING. i really, REALLY could’ve used some help in logging. this took up wayyy too much time on my end. i definitely want an assistant to do this. or figure out a way for multiple people to log in the info and circled takes, especially once i have enough footage around to start playing with, i just want to focus on that while assistants and log, transfer, transcode, and sync for me!
– ASSISTANT EDITOR FOR AUDIO SYNCING. didn’t have any time at all to drop in the real audio at the end. i ended up cleaning the audio (some audio was just panned to one side, so i had to duplicate, then pan over to the other side). maybe an assistant can handle this. i wonder if someone on another computer can just sync the audio, and fix it INSIDE a merged clip. then i would just open up the project file, drag those merged clips, all ready to go, into my project bin, and be good. that would be DOPE.
– NOTE ABOUT SYNCING. you can see if a merged clip is out of sync by the weird half-marker line in the timeline of the viewer (the small triangles connected with a redline). but generally that’s how i did it, is go through each sound clip, listen for the take, label the clip, then go in and set marker, and in point. go through all the audio files and do this. then go through all the video clips, and set marker and In point for the clapper (judged by the audio, not the video, as Ben suggested. because video clips usually off from the audio. i.e. clapper sound happens before it closes. seemed to work okay, sometimes might still be a tad off.)
– AFTER EFFECTS EXPORTS. having to transcode the vfx exports took unnecessary amount of time. because AE doesn’t have ProRes codec, they either exported as animation or .PNG (huge files) and then transcoded using mpeg streamclip.
– PLURALEYES NO GOOD FOR 48HFP. PluralEyes was a huge headache. not only did some clips not get synced, some clips were incorrectly synced. it also would take upwards of 20 to 25 minutes for it to process it. because it puts all the unsynced clips in a sequence, it makes it a nightmare to organize. plus, the way people work with these syncs, is they cut and paste from the pluraleyes synced sequences. very impractical. the other method is to use these sequences as clips. but then you’d have an entire sequence of nested sequences. which at first thought sounds like it could be a nightmare in terms of cleaning up, but i haven’t looked into this yet. still, the fact that it incorrectly syncs clips is not worth it.
– EXPORT – have project files on another computer, also exporting a different version of the cut as a backup. this goes along with the idea that we wanted to have a shared drive from which all of the original footage can be accessed from. but concern was speed, especially if multiple computers are accessing the video files
– BACKUP – i actually didn’t even have a backup of the video files the whole weekend, except on CF cards they originally shot on. i decided to work on James’ iMac rather than my own laptop, but usually i have a SuperDuper backup which is great because it’s a bootable backup; in case the drive died, i would’ve been able to boot straight from the external HD and keep working as usual.
– SOONER PICTURE LOCK – this is an obvious one. i don’t know how often we can keep pushing these edits to the last minute… need to lock earlier so we have enough time to sweeten the audio and ensure a proper export without having a heart attack each time! set a realistic schedule.

San Jose 48 Hour Film Project 2010 – Museville Pictures – Beeswax

Monday, August 23rd, 2010
'Beeswax' - a dark comedy about a shady moving company

'Beeswax' - a dark comedy about a shady moving company

I am amazed yet again at what can be accomplished in one manic weekend.

Last year, after posting my profile to the 48hourfilm website, I was invited by Jacob Rangel to join his crew named Team Stroganoff for their first ever 48 Hour Film Project. I really lucked out that I joined his team. We made a solid film and won “Best Film of 48 Hour Film Project San Jose 2009” along with multiple other awards. Realizing that it was coming up again in a few weeks, I receive a text from him asking if I would be down to get back together for another run!

Jacob rounded up most of the key crew members from last year’s team, as well as crew from another ambitious indie film project I’ve been working on called “Project: Arbiter”, along with a few new faces!

Here were the elements this time around:
Character: Sherlock or Sheila Berman, a judge
Prop: a laptop
Line of Dialogue: “You’ve got to earn it.”

The genre Jacob pulled, in my opinion, couldn’t be more fitting: Dark Comedy!

I arrived at homebase Saturday morning at 7am. This was the first time I wasn’t around to witness the initial brainstorming process and writing (and re-writing, etc.). It was nice to have some moment of peace during the weekend.

What I found most intriguing is that the first day felt very lax. This was our third time writing, shooting, and editing a film in such a limited timeframe, that I thought maybe we were just getting used to it. As Joel, script supervisor, said, “I think we just know what we’re getting into now.” Of course, I would realize later that the weight of the film would rest on me in the final hours.

I had three pages of the script, which so far was pretty funny, but it was all setup and I had no idea how it was going to end! At 10am, they started shooting. Jason and Tim, cinematographers, shot on the 5D and 7D, respectively. We were also limited on lighting equipment, which I think actually helped make the shoot flow a little smoother. While they were shooting, Ben and Justin helped get our post-production department all ready to go.

'the Murch' editing table returns!

'the Murch' editing table returns!

Though, unlike last year, when Raton wrapped shooting at around 3am on Sunday, this one wasn’t going to wrap nearly as soon. Jacob needed the daylight for the final scene. This meant that Sunday, the day the film was to be turned in at 7:30pm, he intended to still keep shooting! Long story short, I did not get the rest of the footage until 2pm. With transferring, transcoding, crashing, then transcoding again, I didn’t get to start editing the last 3 minutes of the film until 4pm!! That only left me with a couple of hours to edit!

Jacob sat down with me at around 5:30pm. I always look forward to this, because it’s always an exciting and intense session in which our communication with each other is critical in order to finalize the film. I focused so strongly on each of his reactions and responses to the cut, and ways to fix it. After doing this two times before, I really think we reached a moment in the “zone” where we totally worked together in harmony. I could remember moments thinking and knowing his intended revision to a cut even before he completed his sentence… “copy that” was my constant response followed by a quick slice and dice of the footage and replay to show a new cut. BOOM. Then I would continue and play the next sequence in the film.

With crew members peering over my shoulder, the clock ticking away, every minute, every second, felt raw. There were so many things happening at once along with finalizing the cut: Jordi and Jeff were finishing up visual effects shots and handing them to me as they finished, Ben and Joel were transcoding shots that were needed for the final cut which I had to import, scoring was being done in a different location and being uploaded to a server from which I had to download from, and audio needed to be synced to the shots.

Oh, and Ben was also trying to figure out a way to export to MiniDV! This was absolutely critical to the completion of the film. They were willing to accept an HD version of the film, but only in H264 codec. I estimated over an hour just to transcode the film to that format. But with a live feed to a MiniDV camera, the idea is that it will record in realtime, therefore we would have an export of the film in 8 minutes.

Jacob and I worked fervently until about 6:34pm. I placed in the final VFX shots and music. Mike and I finalized audio and completely locked the film around 6:45pm. That’s when I handed it over to Ben to handle the export.



Just when I started to celebrate the finish, Vicki asks us to exit the room so they could focus because there is some trouble with the export! The video wasn’t feeding into the camera! This is when it started to get even more intense. Ben was walking back and forth between my editing station and his own where he was testing out the Print to Video method of exporting. Even Jordi jumped in and started to play around with ways to get it to work… and finally… around 7:01pm, the Print to Video RENDER started! RENDER!!?? Apparently, Final Cut still has to render it before having it export realtime to SD. That was the longest render bar I had ever seen.

I think Vicki and I probably looked the most concerned because our eyes were peeled onto that render bar. And then, halfway through, the screen goes BLACK!!! Mini-panic ensues, I move the mouse, and screen pops back up. Screensaver almost had us. As it is rendering, we keep talking about the time table (8 minute film including credits, 8 minute drive to the drop off point, etc.).

5 minutes… 3… 2… 1… 10 seconds… 5… and at about 7:12pm, the video render bar completes and the window disappears. “THIS IS IT!” And then guess what pops up next. An AUDIO render bar!! !#%!@#%!#$ “4 MINUTES”!!! But oh how FCP likes to mess with you. That 4 minute render bar sped up and finished within a few seconds.

The screen goes black. Everyone in the room takes a deep breath. Little “Print to Video” window pops up, and Vicki beckons me to click OK. Never have I been so careful to avoid hitting the “Cancel” button on accident! Oh how tragic that would’ve been. Once I click OK, I can hear the tape mechanism on Jacob’s HVX start, and then bars and tone on the screen and on the LCD of his camera!

It is now 7:13pm, and the movie is recording to MiniDV. Every second is being watched. Preparations for the drop off begin and pathways are cleared. This is going to be very, very close. We know the export won’t finish until about 7:21pm, and downtown San Jose is about 6 or 7 minutes away!


As the credits near the end, I steady one hand on the handle of the HVX, and one of the firewire cable connected to it, while checking my pathway to the delivery vehicle. Credits fade to black, I hear Vicki say, “Go! Go!” and I unhook the firewire cable and jet for the car. WOOHOOO!! =D The adrenaline is addicting! We scramble to get inside the car. Jason takes off, Jacob in the passenger seat, and Mike, Chels, and I in the backseat.

Beeswax Cast and Crew

Beeswax Cast and Crew

We check to make sure the film recorded onto the MiniDV tape while on the way, and everything looks good. Contrary to how I felt the weekend first started, it now felt very similar to how Raton ended… in a near heart attack! In fact, most of us in the car were the same people that rushed to the delivery point last year. And as I was documenting our rush on my iPhone, Chels says, “We have arrived!”

We officially turn in our film at 7:26pm. Four minutes to spare. Phew.

So, what are we shooting next weekend?