Monthly Archives: August 2010

Scene Breakdown: The Wild Bunch part 2

If you have not read Scene Breakdowns: The Wild Bunch part 1 then give it a look-see, it will be important to understanding some of the building concepts in this final part of the breakdown.

So where were we?

Oh ya, The Wild Bunch. The trust in the team has started to break down and they have just discovered that their latest robbery has been a set-up. What they thought were bags of gold coins turned out to be full of iron washers. Here is the final shot of the last breakdown which was a wide shot of the bunch standing around their worthless loot as the leader, Pike, throws down his hat and exclaims, “Bastards”.

Colorado Film Editing

35) We cut from the group to the one person not in the wide, the old man. He begins laughing to himself.

Colorado Film Editing

36) The camera tilts up from focusing on the brother’s hands, throwing the washers down, to their shocked faces. Lyle says, “Washers?”

Colorado Film Editing

37) A cutaway to Angel sitting down shocked and defeated. I am guessing this was to give a little bit more pause after Lyle’s last line before returning to the two shot. His next line begins over the end of this shot.

Colorado Film Editing

38) Now Lyle is transitioning from shock to anger, and begins to rail out against the fact that they shot their way out of the town for a bunch of cheap washers. He is looking at Pike though and we feel that is where he is focusing this anger.

Colorado Film Editing

39) Pike verbalizes what everyone is starting to understand, “They set it up”.

Colorado Film Editing

40) Lyle gets angrier and screams back at Pike. Near the tail of the clip you hear the old man cackling and the brothers eyes’ flick towards him initiating the next cut.

Colorado Film Editing

41) Now in close up the old man howls with insane laughter then repeats Lyle’s question, “They?”, before beginning to move forward. This small movement makes the next cut easier to digest as the action continues in the following shot. They could have cut while he was still and then had him begin moving in the next shot but the action gives motivation and softening to the cut.

Colorado Film Editing

42) We are now back in the original wide shot master with the old man moving towards the group and laughing wildly.

Colorado Film Editing

43) The old man finishes walking up to the brothers in the 3rd Wide shot. His crazy outburst even threatens Lyle a bit, who raises one hand to ward off the old man while raising his other hand into a first. The old man begins a crazy spiel over the next sequence of shots in which he laughs, speaks gibberish, and overall seems to make a fool out of himself.

Colorado Film Editing

44) In the two shot, Lyle lowers his arms as he realizes he is not being attacked.

Colorado Film Editing

45) We now go to a new medium shot of the old man ranting. What is interesting is that the shot clearly breaks the 180-degree rule established by the rest of the shots in this scene. The filmmakers could have easily followed the rule resulting in shots of the old man from over the shoulder of the brothers or Pike, but instead the camera seems to be on the other side of the stone fireplace at the center of the camp. By breaking this rule, we get a shot that doesn’t have the character perspective it would have had with being on the brother’s or Pike’s side and its unconventionalism lends itself to the crazy nature of the old man’s apparent ramblings. It is a case where by breaking the rule it is in fact adding to the scene.

Colorado Film Editing

46) Pike looks down in his two-shot then back at Dutch as the old man continues mocking them. Although the man is acting wild, he is speaking truth in his comments about the set-up and this is acknowledged in Pike’s facial expressions.

Denver Motion Graphics

47) Now back to the odd medium shot where the old man mutters the line “Oh my, what a bunch”, which I think is the only time in the movie that alludes to the title. Please correct me if I am wrong though.

Denver Motion Graphics

48) Next, in the third wide shot, the old man does a crazy little dance where he pretends to throw money up his butt. I tried to get the most appropriate screenshot, but you have to see it in action to understand how weird he looks.

Denver Motion Graphics

49) In his odd close up the old man finishes his rant. He closes it by switching from the delirious laughter to pointed anger and snarling, “They, who the hell is they?” He then turns to walk away; initiating the same action cut that occurred at the beginning of his craziness sequence.

Denver Motion Graphics

50) Back in the original wide shot master Pike calmly answers the question as the old man walks back to his starting position against the fence. He answers, “Railroad men, bounty hunters”.

Denver Motion Graphics

51) We cut to a close up of Pike where he finishes his answer with a name, “Deke Thornton”. He says this name in the same calm manner but with a little bit more weight, which is complimented by the choice of cutting to the close up. Both the acting and editing emphasize the importance of this name to the story.

Denver Motion Graphics

52) This one shot is so important to this scene. It is a close up of the old man as he says, “Deke Thornton?”. On one side it gives even more emphasis to the name, again with the close up choice right after Pike’s and in the way in which the old man says it. With having both close ups right after each other it is as if the two men are having a private conversation and that they might know each other better than we think. It clears the old man of being as crazy as we thought based on his bombastic tirade. All joking aside, he is stone serious when he hears that name. He is an old timer who has been around the block a couple times, possibly a long history with Pike, and certainly not the senile horse trader we thought him to be. After saying the name, he takes a long pause then says, “He was one of them?”

Denver Motion Graphics

53) We see a reaction shot of Pike as he looks down for a beat of silence. This person they are speaking is very important.

Denver Motion Graphics

54) The brothers look bewildered for a second then Lyle lashes out at Pike again.

Denver Motion Graphics

55) With his back to us and the other characters, Pike is silent. From off camera, we hear Angel say, “Hey Gringo”. Pike begins to turn towards the voice.

Denver Motion Graphics

56) We cut to a new two shot of the brothers as they too turn towards Angel. This is from a lower angle that might be more representative of Angel’s perspective, which is fitting because Angel is the dominant force in the following sequence of action.

Denver Motion Graphics

57) Angel is still trying to ruffle the feathers of the brothers and chides them with “You can have my silver”.

Denver Assistant Editor

58) In the new two shot, Tector reacts to Angel’s jokes by beginning to whip his pistol out. He makes it half way through his draw when we cut back to Angel.

Denver Assistant Editor

59) As we return to Angel his is just finishing drawing his gun as well. The way in which the cut takes place half way into Tector’s draw and then seeing Angel finish his draw eludes to the fact that Angel was quicker and beat Tector to it. If it had cut after Tector finished drawing, then it would seem Angel was just reacting to Tector rather than them doing it at the same time with Angel being faster. Also there is a great sound effect before the cut of the gun coming out of the holster and then one of Angel cocking his hammer as he finishes drawing. Both serve the action so well and accentuate the standoff.

Denver Assistant Editor

60) There is a quick reaction from the brothers as they back up a little at Angel’s quick draw.

Denver Assistant Editor

61) Then we see Pike’s close up reaction to this new development.

Denver Assistant Editor

62) Back to Angel as he continues to tease the brothers.

Denver Assistant Editor

63) Then we hold of the brother’s two shot for a beat of silence.

Denver Assistant Editor

64) In the original wide shot master we see the old man, with his back to the group, reach into his saddlebag and quietly remove a rifle. At this point no one even flinches towards his direction and we don’t know which character he is going to train his gun on. Because we know so very little about these players at this point, this move by him could lead to a couple different scenarios. On viewing this the first time I thought he might be teamed up with Angel and he was going to get a jump on Pike and Dutch while Angel held off the brothers. It intensifies an already taught moment where we as an audience don’t know who to trust, just like the bunch.

Denver Assistant Editor

65) We pick up the old man now in his medium shot as he quietly cocks his rifle and walks out frame right.

Denver Assistant Editor

66) In the second wide shot we see the old man cross behind Pike and Dutch. I think if he was a threat to them they would react to him in some way, so he must be going to get another sight on the brothers and Angel. Although this little question of sides only really plays out over 3 or 4 shots, it is still a nice extra bit of intrigue added to an already tense standoff.

Denver Assistant Editor

67) Now we go to Angel’s first close up. I think this is the weakest of the close ups used in this scene. It does show Angel’s devilish facial expressions and maybe it is showing that he is focused on the brothers instead of the old man, but the fact that it does not have a clear drive differentiates it from the other powerful close ups used earlier. I would love to hear if anyone has a different take on this shot choice.

Denver Assistant Editor

68) Back to the brothers, eyes still firmly planted on Angel.

Denver Assistant Editor

69) In close up, Pike calmly says, “Go on, go for it”. We don’t know who exactly he is talking to, but by having the shot before Pike’s close up and the shot following it being of the brothers, the editor gives us a hint that it is them Pike is speaking to.

Denver Assistant Editor

70) Back in their original two shot, the brothers slowly turn back towards Pike, as he says, “Fall apart”. Pike is talking to everyone, but with the most emphasis on the brothers. At the end of the shot we hear Dutch say, “Walk softly boys”.

Colorado Assistant Editor

71) Then we cut to Dutch holding his gun. By hearing the threat off camera, it piques our interest to see who said it. When we go to that character we get a little bit more payoff than if we had cut from the brothers to Dutch before he delivered the line.

Colorado Assistant Editor

72) We get a stern look from Pike in his close up. It is kind of the exclamation point on the threat, a silent look that lets them know he means business.

Colorado Assistant Editor

73) The brothers stand down. Although we can’t see their guns being lowered, all their body language suggests they are giving up. As Tector bends down, Lyle gives one last look over his shoulder towards Angel, which dictates the next cut.

Colorado Assistant Editor

74) Angel holsters his gun and it seems our standoff is resolved.

Colorado Assistant Editor

75) Back in our very first wide shot, all the guns are lowered and the men move towards each other in the center of the camp. There is a downbeat music cue to further solidify the scene resolution.

Colorado Assistant Editor

76) I believe the resolution came in the last shot, but I included this one because as a final sign of no hard feelings, the old man throws Tector a bottle of Whiskey. It seems in most Western films, passing a bottle of Whiskey around is a key sign that everything is good again, at least for now. Also, I like whiskey.

Colorado Assistant Editor

So that’s it. 76 shots, a roller coaster ride of emotion in one of the best western films of all time. As I said in the last post this scene is all about a group unraveling. Every time you think the issues are dealt with something else comes up. You don’t know who to trust and in a group of criminals there are not a lot of reason to trust anyone. If you want a little more info on the film, as well as some interesting tidbits on the editorial process check out the Wikipedia page on the film.

I have yet to decide what film scene to focus on next. Hopefully something I watch in the next week lends itself to this type of breakdown. If anything, it damn well won’t be as long a scene as this one. As always, I would love to hear what your interpretations are as well as any suggestions for scenes to study.

Scene Breakdowns: The Wild Bunch part 1

First off I have to apologize. In my excitement to start doing these breakdowns I chose a scene from a movie I had seen in the last couple days. That is not why I am apologizing. I have gained a lot from doing this exercise; there is a lot of power in analyzing something shot by shot that you don’t get from just watching the scene play out as a part of the whole feature and even from watching the scene over and over by itself. I am apologizing because it’s a long one. It wasn’t till I was fully entrenched in this particular scene that I realized how many shots were in it. I’m going to be making this a 2-part post because it is too many stills to present all together and there is a perfect emotional divider in the scene as well. So, I hope you can bear with me, because this may take a while.

This scene is not the first one that comes to mind when I think of The Wild Bunch. Usually it is the opening or the final battle. But there was a moment while watching this scene where I was really grabbed by what they were doing from a tension perspective and that is why it came to mind when I was pondering which scene to get this breakdown ball a rolling with. Most of my analysis is from a film editorial perspective but there will certainly be comments that deal more with directing and the other disciplines. First, I have to give credit where credit is due.

The Wild Bunch debuted theatrically in 1969. It was directed by the great Sam Peckinpah and edited by Louis Lombardo. The scene in question takes place after the opening robbery and gunfight where the remaining members of the gang are about the divide up their score. I could have given a long synopsis of the film, but all you need to know is that it is a glorious western and you damn well need to see it. This scene is the first to really introduce us to the players left and is the starting place for the rest of their story. We have seen them in action but don’t know them or where they stand in the pecking order, except for the leader, Pike.

The scene starts at around the 24 minute mark but I didn’t start it till after some of the traveling shots that lead to, what I see as, the dramatic beginning of the scene. I began at the 24:41 mark. The scene is a little over 4 minutes long and I stopped studying it after the resolution comes at the 28:50 mark. In these 4 minutes there are 76 shots.

The men have just ridden into the camp and gotten off their horses.

1) It begins with the widest shot of the scene, from behind Pike with a clear view of everyone’s placement. It’s informing us of where everyone is as well as the action of the men dropping the loot in the center of the camp.

2) Next we go to a medium shot of an old man. The scene’s true beginning started with a tracking shot of this old man moving through the camp to meet the approaching riders. We know he is important to this scene due to his screen time so far and with the way he speaks at will with Pike but know nothing else about him or his involvement in the group at this point. This medium shot endears him more to the scene because he is the first character we are seeing from a closer perspective as he looks out at the group.

3) We return to the wide shot to see the younger Mexican character walk past the 2 men in the center of frame.

4) There is a cut on action to a medium two shot of the men as the left one turns to watch the younger character. Seeing them first in this two shot makes us associate them as a pair and in agreement with each other as the scene progresses.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor 4

5) We follow his gaze to see the boy crouch down and look up at him.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor 1

6) Now this shot I don’t really know about. This is the only time it is used in this scene and doesn’t really tell us anything about this group or further the story. Maybe it is there to give us a lay of the land and show us that there are others around as the group interacts. I just don’t know.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor 6

7) Now back to the 2 shot for the instigating dialogue.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

8) This is a new wide shot that has a casual balance that compliments the casual response from Pike. I like that it is not looking directly in Pike’s face and is not a direct opposite to the master from the other direction. Also, I don’t know why this stupid smiley face shows up instead of the number 8, keep trying to get rid of it but the editor wont let me. I guess WordPress likes this shot.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

9) This is where you really understand how the 2 shot compliments these characters. By already having a subconscious connection because of the shot choice, its gives more impact to their intentions.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

10) As the line is being said we see a cutaway of the boy who he is talking about.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

11) The line is then finished back in the 2 shot. After this character, Lyle, finishes, his friend, Tector, begins to call out the old man featured earlier for his size of the take.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

12) As he is speaking we cutaway to the second wide shot where you see a slight head nod by the old man as he reacts to being criticized.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

13) Then we return to the 2 shot for the end of the line delivery.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

14) In the old man’s medium shot he looks from the 2 men to the ground and spits in response to the statement, then glances away in Pike’s direction.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

15) The 2 men look at each other as if to assure each other of commitment to this idea, then verbally reiterate that they don’t feel the shares are fair.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

16) Right on the last word of the line, “fair”, we cut to a new medium shot of Pike. This time it is much less of a profile shot and dictates more power with the eye line close to the camera. It prepares you for Pike’s authority that he is about to unleash on the 2 men.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

17) The men are both a little bewildered at Pike’s statement and look at each other as such.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

18) Before they can finish looking back at Pike we cut to a new shot of Pike, where he immediately stands up into a close up. This is the first close up so far and it is empowered with an even tighter eyeline. It gives great weight to the intense angry line Pike bellows “why don’t you answer me you damned yellow livered trash?” For some reason the subtitles didn’t show the word “livered”, but I think it is such a great line I had to type it out for you.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

19) In the 2 shot, Lyle begins to argue but Pike’s audio comes in over Lyle’s audio, overpowering Lyle’s voice and cutting him off.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

20) Pike begins to deliver his final message to these boys. This shot is only on screen for maybe half as second before cutting to a reaction.

Glen Montgomery Denver Editor

21) The reaction shot holds on the 2 brothers as Pike says “I either lead this bunch or…”

Denver Post Production

22) Pike finishes his ultimatum in the same powerful close up saying “end it right now”. Again the subtitles missed one of the words in the line. After his line we hold on Pike for a beat to let it really sink in, during which we see him clench his jaw and take a breath.

Denver Post Production

23) Just as power was added to the beginning of Pike’s outburst by going to the first close up of the scene, there are two ways that more magnitude was given to it on the tail side as well. First we cut from Pike’s close up to the original wide master shot looking out at all the players. The drastic change in shot size has a strong effect on snapping us to attention. Of the two wide shots, this one shows only the faces of the two brothers; with the eyes on them now the ball is in their court. Had we cut to the other wide shot showing Pike’s face it would have had a different emotional outcome. The second way this shot brings weight to the ultimatum is that it is held in silence for almost 7 seconds. Throughout this scene only a couple shots come even close to this length and there is very little time when one the characters is not speaking. All you hear is the wind and a chicken clucking in the background. It is such a dynamic finish to a powerful 6 shot sequence.

Denver Post Production

24) The brothers stand down and agree to the original shares.

Denver Post Production

25) We get one more close shot of Pike and then he moves out of frame toward the brothers. The movement is important to signify that the standoff is over and we can get rolling again.

Denver Post Production

26) Even though we feel like the issue has been resolved, Angel reminds us there is still tension in the group by taunting the 2 brothers with cowardly chicken clucking.

27) The brothers glance back at Angel, and then Tector turns back to look at Pike. His eye movement leads nicely into the cut to the next shot. Also because he is far to the left of the screen and his eyes draw us even more to the left we are in a perfect position to be looking at Pike’s screen location after the cut.

Denver Post Production

28) This is a new wide shot for the scene. On a practical side it allows us a good view of the action from the profile of all the characters but Angel. On an emotional side it give a balance of power to the characters by not giving any one character the focus or majority of frame. It is the right shot to further dissipate the emotions from the heated exchange and bring attention to the loot at center screen that all the characters are interested in. At the end of the shot Pike is about to start cutting into one of the money bags and instigates the cut to the next shot.

Denver Post Production

29) Back to the 2 shot where the brother realize what Pike is doing and reach down to hack into the score as well.

Denver Post Production

30) Now we see a cutaway of the bags of money and the brothers’ hands grabbing at them. From the corner of the screen we see Pike’s bag begin to pour out. We get a quick glimpse of metal pouring out, but something is not right about it.

Denver Post Production

31) A quick reaction shot of Pike and his second, Dutch, where they look distinctly bewildered, not excited.

Denver Post Production

32) The camera shows the brothers’ hands full of metal rings but doesn’t linger as it tilts back up to the 2 shot. We see that the brothers look bewildered as well. We know something is not right, but haven’t had enough time to examine what exactly they are holding. Tector exclaims, “Silver rings!?”

Denver Post Production

33) Dutch corrects him. They are in fact washers and the gang has been set up. He throws his hat down as Pike stares into the pile in shock.

Denver Post Production

34) We return to the profile wide shot as Pike throws his money bag down and Angel run into frame to see for himself.

Denver Post Production

It seems the line “Bastards” is a good one to end on. There are still some 40 odd shots still to come, so check back soon. This entire scene is a series of tense and release cycles. It is all about a gang unraveling under pressure, and is done so well. I would love to hear what you have to think about specific shot choices or edit decisions; this has a lot of my own opinion infused and seeing alternate perspectives is an important part of the education process.

I have to run though; its my Fiance’s birthday and we have head-sized margaritas to enjoy. Cheers!

Check out the rest of this breakdown Scene Breakdown: The Wild Bunch part 2

Don’t pull that cord!!! some XDCAM pdw-u1 gotchas

When the company I started at transitioned into high definition acquisition, due to our purposes the XDCAM format was the only solution. We certainly looked into some of the P2 cameras, but there was not a trustworthy or economic way of archiving the raw footage then. See our primary client was a large aerospace company that, in addition to full productions, needed plenty of events and processes solely documented. This massive amount of raw footage may or may not be used down the road, but it had to be there just in case. We had a warehouse full of old media captured for them over the years; Betacam, D2, One inch, film, you name it we had it stored there. Well, in the new HD era then, and even more so today, the majority of capture is tapeless. We couldn’t rely on hard drives or use the extremely expensive P2 cards as an archival medium, so we went with the full size Sony PDW-F355 camera that shoots to 23 Gb and 50 Gb Professional Discs. These discs are about the same cost as the 40 min digibeta tapes we were accustomed to shooting with and you could pull them out of the camera and throw them on the shelf without having to worry about the data becoming corrupted by time. In addition, the discs are extremely durable; I have seen them dropped plenty of times with nothing but small scratches on the hard outer plastic protecting the internal Blu-Ray disc. These are in large part why many of the reality shows such as Survivor and Road Rules chose this camera.

So in order to actually use this footage you need to use a device to transfer the files to your NLE. Go figure. You could use the camera itself, but that’s not practical. Enter the PDW-U1, a nice little disc reader for these Professional Discs. It doesn’t have deck control or any video inputs or outputs, but using USB it can read and write XDCAM clips. With anything that involves 1’s and 0’s there is potential for corruption, and there are 2 ways I know of where the PDW-U1 will ruin the precious footage you have on your XDCAM disc.

1- Don’t pull that cord!!!

This is one of those things that should speak for itself but you don’t discover it till an Oh, $h*% moment is upon you. Luckily, it happened to us while mastering to a blank so it didn’t destroy anything irreplaceable; but the scary thing is it could have. We had 3 editors sharing one PDW-U1 and while a final project was being mastered back to XDCAM disc for archival the USB cord was pulled from the machine. When this happened the disc became unreadable. It wouldn’t show up in the Sony clipviewer, it wouldn’t mount as an external drive, and it certainly wouldn’t allow any import into Avid. Now, I might be able to understand the clip that was being written becoming corrupted, but for some reason the entire disc becomes corrupt. Again, luckily this was one of the first clips being written so after a quick reformat of the disc we were back on track without too much time lost. But think if this was a master disc with months and months worth of final projects on it. Think if all these old projects were now offline and you didn’t have a clone of the XDCAM master to go back to. Wow, that sucks to think about. So don’t pull the cord, unless you are sure that it is not accessing the XDCAM disc while you pull it. Better yet, eject the disc from the reader before you pull the cord. Peace of mind is so nice when considering the alternative. Now, I would hope and expect that if you were reading from the disc with the write lock on, this act of cord pulling would not have an effect. I have not had the chance to test this one, nor the stones to test it on raw footage, so for now it is speculation.

2- Don’t delete those clips!!!

This is another gotcha I discovered while trying to make a master disc for a collection of recent projects (that were still online, thankee sai). I wrote back 2 clips, but they were not in the order that I wanted, so I accessed the disc through the explorer window and deleted the first clip. My thinking was I could rewrite the deleted clip and it would now be in the proper order. Boom goes the dynamite! Same result as pulling the cord. When I messed with the clips on the disc, it made the whole disc corrupt and unreadable. I am guessing that the file structure on the disc is similar to that of a BPAV folder from an EX-1, when you mess with it everything ceases and desists. This is a careless misstep I could see happening if you were trying to get rid of bad takes or clearing up space on the disc for reuse. If you went into a disc with 50 or so clips and wanted to get rid of 10 or so mess-ups it would render the entire batch corrupt. The thought makes me shutter. With the camera you can delete the last clip on the disc, but not selectively delete. I am guessing this file structure issue is at the core of that function. So when that raw disc is full and out of the camera, write lock and forget about it, because otherwise great anguish awaits.

Alfred Hitchcock on Cutting

Hitch is the master, at least in the style of filmmaking that I am most interested. He was so successful with suspense because he understood human psychology, and that is why his work gets deep into your head. You feel the knife blade because he never shows it enter the skin, letting your imagination fill in the gaps with images his effects could never compare to. You physically move in the seat to try and see around a corner because he is obscuring the frame from the characters point of view and thus your point of view. You are the only person who knows the hero is innocent because the murderer is flaunting his kills at you and only you. Hitch knows everyone has been innocently accused of something at some point and can empathize with the utter frustration of his hero’s plight.

Here the Master shares a couple different approaches to cutting a scene, or as he rephrases it “assembling”. I like his term better. This is not about taking out the bad parts, but rather about putting together the best parts.

Learned the Hard Way #1: Output Follow Through

You have spent days, even weeks, on your edit. You lived in the footage, heard it in your dreams, might even buy stock in the company you edited it for; its that close to you. The client session went amazing, you made the revisions, and now they want to get it out there. Finally, you are home free. Time to set the computer up for lay-off to tape or maybe to compress a file that’s going to get posted to their website. You hit enter and go do a little arm in arm celebratory swing dance with the single receptionist on your way to smoke a cigar by the dumpster out back. Hazahh! The tape gets shipped out on time or the file gets uploaded successfully to your FTP site, now for margaritas.

Or this happens…

Rewind! (Cue fast tape rewind sound effect)

What I described above is not how this photo came about, but in a weird delusional way it might be. This was early on in my career, maybe even within the first 2 months. I had to make a couple text changes to a spot that my senior editor had cut. Something in the realm of “Buy 2 cars and you can touch our pup tiger” being changed to “Buy 2 cars and you can touch our pet tiger”. Something important. So the changes were made and I had to make dubs for the stations. I won’t say I didn’t check the tapes in master control, but I certainly didn’t watch the actual layoff and turn the volume up on the speakers to hear at a proper level. On a quick playback everything looked good, changes were apparent, and the audiometers were bouncing. All good, tapes were taken up front to the receptionist and I returned to whatever compressions I was doing before the change request came in.

The tapes had 3 30-second spots on them. With bars, slates, and black between spots there was maybe 4 minutes of content on the tapes. Had I taken 4 minutes out of my day to stand in master control and focus, I would have noticed that the audio levels starting to fluctuate midway through the second spot. Had I spend those 4 minutes; I would have realized the audio of the third spot was almost entirely overdriven. It seems our Beta SP deck was deciding to do its own damn thing on one of the input channels and I would have noticed if I had the volume up and actually been listening to it. Needless to say the stations rejected the tapes and my boss got a very passionate call from the owner of the ad agency in charge of the commercials. After much discussion my boss asked what he could do to resolve the situation.

I want you to put a stake through the head of the guy who did this.

My interpretation was that he wanted to feed me delicious meats, but my boss decided that it would be hilarious to take a photo of yours truly and send it to the ad agency. Those 4 minutes led to one of the most embarrassing things in my professional career, and it is embarrassing to retell it. But that embarrassment taught me one of the most important lessons as well.

No matter how good your project is, or how happy the clients are with it in the suite, if it is messed up on output, even a little thing, all the good aspects are negated. That could be an audio issue when laying to tape or it could be some stutters in the final file. If you are watching that final output, it is an opportunity to catch that little something that can embarrass you for the rest of your life.

Fast Forward! (Cue another speeding tape sound effect)

A couple months ago I was in the final stages of a short film I had been working on for months. It was a labor of love project that I was doing after hours. I was in the process of making all the final deliverables and caught something while checking one of the BluRay discs. It was one shot that didn’t have a vignette were it was supposed to. For a second a little demon on my shoulder spoke up.

Seriously, no one is going to notice that. Think of how much work you have to go back and do to fix this. You have to re-render it, you have to make all those files, and you have to re-burn all those discs. You will be the only one that will ever notice this.

Yes, I listened to the little guy for a bit while wanting to cry at the thought of it all. This was a case where no one would send out a photo with a stake through my head, but I would know that mistake was there. All the hard work late at night and on the weekends would be trashed due to something I now had the opportunity to change. Which is the second point. You have to be willing to watch that program you have seen a million times one more time, and you have to be willing to revisit the program if you find something that will leave egg all over your face. Or a picture of you with a stake through your head.

Yes, I did go back and lay that vignette on that shot. I did re-compress the 20-minute short, and make a huge amount of deliverables that took well over 5 hours. But now I can watch that short without feeling nauseous every time it comes to the scene, because I watched the output and caught it. It sucked to have to learn this lesson that way, but it is one of the most important lessons in this field. Ask any of the pros who have been doing it for decades, they all adhere to this because it’s what keeps them employed, and keeps this from happening.

I’ll never forget, because I learned it the hard way.

So you’re an Editor?

This video says so much. Very very funny.