The Nightmare Edit

Nightmare is probably too strong a word. More like a mediocre dream where you spend the whole thing waking up and getting ready for school, then actually wake up and have to do it all over again. I recently edited part of a behind the scenes feature for Leah Not Leia, a film I PA’d in 2010. Footage was shot on a consumer handheld camera throughout each of the 5 shooting days. For one reason or another, the behind the scenes camera man never edited or captured the tapes and they’ve been sitting around collecting dust. The directors, unable to cut the features for a long time, asked Katie and I to cut them. We got the tapes about around Christmas, maybe later. I’m honestly not really sure anymore because December and January were such a blur of finishing projects, with this tossed on top! We were told that one of the MiniDV tapes seemed to have been damaged a bit, so we expected that one to be light on footage and still get plenty from the other 5 tapes.

Well, it did have damage. And so did all the others. We were a little concerned.

There was noise and distortion intermittently throughout all 6 hours of footage. The distortion also killed the audio at the time, so it made large portions unusable.

I took half the tapes to capture, and my camera wouldn’t capture them properly. I borrowed a coworkers camera and it wouldn’t capture them either. I finally got Katie’s camera to do it, but it definitely didn’t like them.

I realized after my capture that this distortion was causing some sync problems on my tapes. Every glitch that popped up on the screen would send the audio out of sync a random amount. Luckily, there was way more noise at the beginning of the tape and it seemed to balance itself out after about 60% of the way through.

My solution was perhaps not the most perfect way, but it worked perfect in this scenario: I had 3 hours of tape, it fell out of sync constantly, and I only had about 4 days to cut it into half a concise behind the scenes feature to make a DVD manufacturing deadline to release on Valentine’s Day.

1. First, I put the whole tape clip in a sequence and watched it through. When it popped out of sync, I found the point it did, placed an edit, slipped back into sync, proceed. Repeat. This worked well for me to help get acquainted with the footage. At the same time, I knew I was going to be setting a lot of the footage to music so if the audio didn’t sound interesting, I just deleted it instead of syncing. A bit risky to be throwing things out that early but it had to be fast.

2. I loaded this sequence into the Viewer and edited into a “selects” sequence. This allowed me to pull only the interesting bits and avoid anything rendered unusable on the tapes. I probably could have done this while I was syncing, but I was way too annoyed by the constant syncing to really determine good footage, and I had the time to take it as two steps.

3. Then I loaded the selects sequence into the viewer, and edited into the main sequence from that. This allowed me to only edit from what I deemed to be good obviously, and allowed me to edit without the frustration of constant distortion. Basically, I was able to forget about all the great footage that was destroyed and focus on what I had to work with.

This workflow was also the fastest way I could figure to do a LOT of syncing and immediately be able to edit from the newly synced timeline. The sync changes happened whenever the distortion on the tape would pop up, so my sync ranged from as much as 39 seconds to as little as 15 frames.

I should also mention I mapped my Insert/Overwrite keys to ‘edit from sequence’ for this cut. I wasn’t editing nested sequences within each other. By using ‘edit from sequence’, you can load a sequence into the viewer and the edits you make will pull the actual clips from that sequence’s timeline and put it in your new sequence. No nesting. Nesting bad in Final Cut Pro.

From there I edited that sequence as normal, refining it and doing my regular edits because I was simply working with normal clips. I exported an XML, loaded all the footage onto an external drive and brought it to Katie who was working in Premiere 5.5. She imported the XML and added it to her cut. Then we combined our halves and everything was turned in on time.

So if you’re keeping score at home that was:
-MiniDV tape (which neither of us have worked with in ages)
-Sync Issues
-Distortion and noise destroying large parts of the tape
-Cameras not capturing tapes properly

Tape sucks and I’m glad to be working with at least HDV on a regular basis. Hm, nice to have a project actually make me grateful for HDV. But seriously, it was a REALLY fun edit and an editor can never have too much practice with troubleshooting things like this. I think I’m pretty well set in that area for a while. It’s always great to have some fun stuff to cut and I was actually not all that exasperated by the issues either. It feels good to have a challenge like massive sync problems and be able to fix it up pretty rapidly with a workflow that efficiently addresses the situation.

Everyone seemed to love our featurettes, and you can see it on the DVD for Leah Not Leia, currently available for $10.