Snow Day

It’s snowing outside so fuck it. Work can wait.

I lived and worked in South Africa for most of my life having emigrated there from England in 1970 at age 5 and now do all of my editing for my South African clients sitting in a fairly comfortable chair in Youghal, on the Irish East Coast not far from Cork, having immigrated to Ireland late 2016 at age 52. I have a fabulous assistant in SA who I couldn’t do without and between us we manage to make TV every day.  So here is a breakdown of our workflow, it’s not necessarily the best but it’s inexpensive and gets the job done.

A few days before we are due to receive footage on a job we start with the housekeeping. Creating folders for footage, audio, extras, external media, libraries, stills, mixes, xmls, episode bins, scene bins etc etc all with the help of Post Haste from Digital Rebellion. I’ve created several templates for various size projects so it’s a simple matter of a few tweaks here and there for the job, hit create and voila a folder structure on the raid is created within a few minutes. Our processes are all organic and every job we tweak and pull and refine so we try not make the same mistakes twice. We have rules around naming conventions and categorising of media and we dare not break them or it’ll all fall down.  So now on to the actual work. 

In SA, footage from production is delivered every night to Themba, my SA azzy, who moves the footage from the daily drive to the raid daily bin using verification copy software called Hedge (brilliant) or offload from Red Giant (slow, but not bad), logs the footage and audio with the correct scene and slate numbers as well as episode number if we’re doing a TV series and obviously take number etc. Typically file names would look something like this – IC_Ep01_Sc01_SL0001_T01 (sometimes adding CamA or CamB etc if we shoot multicam, oh and IC is the abbreviated production name, so It’s Complicated becomes IC). Audio is also renamed accordingly. This is then copied from the Raids daily bin into its relevant episode and scene bins on the projects raid. This means we have footage on 2 separate raids. Always have a backup, and in fact we have 4 portable daily drives that get sent out as well as an onset backup of the dailies. Each day dailies are copied onto 2 drives which travel to the production office and the post house. They get swapped the following day with the new footage so no more than 2 daily drives in use at a time. We have also begun tagging our clips with various info. When the footage is imported we have ‘create keyword from tags’ selected. Metadata handling in FCPX is the dog’s bollocks and saves you a ton of time and effort. It would be better to do this in FCPX using the metadata there but it helps us and our production team who use finder. 

Next step is getting the footage from South Africa to me in Ireland. We went through quite a lot of testing and planning when it came to moving footage. Initially we were driven by file size because of my bandwidth limitations using 3G pay as you go until I got fibre broadband. So we worked with the FCPX proxy workflow option and added a couple steps. We brought the footage into FCPX and switched on proxy workflow. This then creates a proxy file half size the original and places it in your library. We then transcode the proxy files even further in Edit Ready keeping the same aspect ratio on the resize and the downconvert. At one point I was dealing with 320×240 files at about 10 megs for 30 seconds of footage for a couple days (really lo-res but absolutely workable). As long as the aspect ratio remains divisible by 2 from the original aspect ratio, FCPX will relink to the original footage without a hitch. It was a struggle at first but over the weeks we eventually moved up to just using the proxy files created by FCPX.

Again we did homework here in terms of internet transfer options and originally we had signed a deal with Signiant in the States to move our footage, but we had delays in getting the required hardware due in the meantime a big client pulled the plug on a job and we couldn’t afford it so we eventually ended up with Dropbox. We pay for the 1tb service and it’s worked perfectly,  $5000 to $99 a year in one foul client losing swoop. Ideally I would have loved to work with the guys at Signiant but circumstances being what they were, Dropbox was all we had. We have found that moving large chunks of footage into the Dropbox folder while connected to the net causes massive delays but we fixed that by effectively pulling Dropbox offline (by pausing the sync function) and copying the folders required into Dropbox and then switch sync back on once it has all copied over. We moved almost a full terabyte of footage in 4 days that way but just a few weeks before we struggled with 250gb while connected. Weird but it works just fine now. 

The audio files are not converted to MP3 or anything, they remain wav files. I mix the finished episodes here in Ireland so need the best quality. 

So now I have the footage and I can start cutting. First I move the footage out of the Dropbox folders into the correct folders on my raid. Everyday I get sent an XML file of each scene that is shot. My assistant very kindly syncs the footage for me and I import that into the relevant library and duplicate it. I work with the duplicate scene and not the original so I never have to worry about resyncing clips if I have a do over.  So I open the library, import XML, relink if necessary (different drive names, which you can overcome by naming your drives on both sides of the world the same) place it in the right event, duplicate, rename and start cutting with the duplicate. Then it’s just a matter of sending XML files back to SA and Themba imports, switches off the proxy, links the original footage and exports for client to view on Kollaberate. Lately with the bandwidth restrictions lifted by my acquisition of a fibre broadband connection I usually do all that and only send Themba the final finished library. I have found that XML is the best way to move library events around. There are fewer issues with relinking footage for a start. When moving a library, you have to delete all the render files etc and zip it up before you send over the net. I’ve seen lots of articles about moving your libraries intact as libraries but in my experience, XML is king. 

So that takes care of cutting but what about finishing, well we decided that we would grade in FCPX for the initial projects and we bought Color Finale Pro, because that way we didn’t need to send the original full res files over the net and I could grade with the half size files, relink in SA to full res and have Themba do a polish pass to allow for any over/under cranking of the grade. Not ideal but it worked and we delivered 650 minutes of TV that way and it looked great. 

As to mix, well I had all the original quality audio so sent XML out to X2Pro and mixed, exported mix, synced it my side and exported a final XML. Put that and the final mix in the Dropbox folder and Themba relinked, packaged and delivered the final programme for broadcast. We did that every week for 13 weeks without missing a single deadline. 

One thing that is vitally important in all of this process is proper housekeeping. The rules we apply make sure we don’t have any failures. We deviated in the past on a couple rules and it came back and bit us on the arse. My biggest bug bear is the renaming of the original footage files. It’s an absolute necessity. We don’t send dailies on DVD anymore, we hand out portable drives to the team who need dailies and they can search and access footage by scene and episode or slate number using finder.

And for me finally the most important thing is to have an assistant who you can trust. I have been working with Themba in SA for over 10 years and he is an invaluable asset. Never ever under estimate the power of a good edit assistant. And look after them, the good ones are gold.

Wordy and long. 

Peace love and vomit