“An editor is one who separates the wheat from the chaff and prints the chaff.”
— Adlai Stevenson
Why is Editing important?
We do editing in post production stage to combine diverse elements, to trim existing elements, to correct mistakes and to build up shows from smaller segments. The simplest editing is when you combine program portions by simply cutting the various videotaped pieces together into the proper sequence. The more care taken during the pre-production, the less work you have to do in the post production. Many editing assignments involve trimming the available material to make the final videotape fit a given time slot or to cut all extraneous material. This occurs in ENG editing, where you may have 10 minutes’ worth of exciting fire footage, but only 20 seconds to tell the story.
Editing is often done to correct mistakes, by cutting out the awful parts, and/or replacing them with good ones. This can be quite simple and may only involve cutting out a few seconds during which the talent made a mistake. It also can become quite challenging, especially if the retakes do not quite fit the rest of the recording, as to colour temperature, background sounds, continuity, or field of view.
The most difficult, but most satisfying editing assignments are those in which you must build a show from a great many takes. In this case, the edit is the major production phase. This is especially true in EFP post production, when all takes are shot with a single camera to be combined later.
On-Line and Off-Line
Off-line editing produces a work print, a preliminary and usually lower-quality tape dubbed from the higher quality master. On-line editing produces that master copy that is used on the air or for dubbing off copies. The terms off-line and on-line don’t refer so much to the tape format used, but rather the intent of the edited product.
The major advantage of off-line editing is that you can take time for reviewing the unedited material and deciding where to cut, without tying up expensive equipment. With burn-in dubs (those with a window featuring time code numbers “burned into” the bottom of the frame), you can identify the exact spot where you’ll cut, and note these decisions on an editing shot list. Later, you can proceed with the actual editing.
Too many times, however, people start editing without having properly thought about the editing sequence. This can sometimes help to save time, but more often than not you will get lost in a maze of detail. In all but the most routine editing jobs, you will need to do an editing outline, a list of the desired event sequences and the necessary transitions.
Analog Video Editing
Assemble and Insert Modes on Analog VTRs
One’s first thought is that, if you wanted to assemble a series of shots back to back, you’d use the assemble edit mode, and when you wanted to insert a shot somewhere to replace existing video, you’d use the insert mode. This is not exactly true.
When in the assemble mode, you dub onto the record tape so you always add new, fresh control track. The recording VTR is supposed to make perfectly continuous control track in this mode. Unfortunately, even the best machines sometimes fail in this regard. As a result, some assemble edits experience sync roll or momentary tearing.
When editing in insert mode, on the other hand, you do not transfer fresh control track to the record videotape. Instead, you use it as a guide and position reference for laying down the inserted video on the tape. Therefore, to do insert edits, you must first lay down a control track by recording black on the record tape, before using it for editing. This takes time, but you gain roll-free edits.
Time code is a way of representing time and position information about a tape in either an audio or visual form. To identify and mark where all segments occur, various address code systems have been developed. The two most common are the control track or pulse-count system, and SMPTE time code.
Control Track Counter
The control track counter takes advantage of the control track pulses on the tape. These are counted, one by one, as elapsed time – one pulse per frame. The advantage of this system is that no special code needs to be recorded onto any videotape – either during the original shoot, or on the master edited reel. The disadvantage of control track counting systems is that they are not always frame accurate. You may lose one or two frames over the course of stopping, starting, and shuttling the machine.
SMPTE Time Code
SMPTE time code, on the other hand, is an electronic signal that provides an address for each frame of video. This address is recorded on the time code track of the videotape.
If you look at the audio time code signal as an audio wave, it appears as a sort of square wave at a frequency of somewhere between 2400 Hz and 4800 Hz. This signal, upon closer inspection, is actually at least 80 transitions (cycles) about every 1/30 second. The code itself is made up of 80 binary digits (bits) of information:
As you can see there are several groups of “assignable” bits for reel and show IDs and the like, as well as some future expansion room in the form of “unassigned” bits. These single digits can be any hex (base 16) value (0-9 and A-F). These can be used as a date, a “scene and take” number, or even as a source identifier.
The remainder make up the “hours:minutes:seconds:frames” we’re familiar with, and a synchronizing word that always contains the same information to provide time code readers with a clue to when each time code word begins and ends and in which direction the tape is moving. The sync word of the time code frame must correspond exactly with the vertical interval of the matching TV frame.
The time code reader, in its simplest form, is a box that takes the audio or VITC representation of time code, and converts it into a displayed set of numbers. It can display on an LED or LCD readout or on a “burn-in” within a video signal.
What Is Drop Frame Time Code?
Regular time code counts 30 frames per second. Colour television has, in fact, 29.97 frames per second.
In drop frame time code, frames 00 and 01 are dropped from the counter every minute, except multiples of 10 minutes (10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 00).
Therefore, 108 frame numbers are dropped every hour (3.6 seconds), or one frame about every 33.3 seconds. Notice that it’s digits from the numbering system that are dropped, not actual frames of video. You still have all of your video information with drop frame time code.
Rule of Thumb When Spinning Shows
“Spinning a show” is the act of quickly fast-forwarding the program, to get the final running time, instead of watching the tape in real time.
To calculate the real duration of a show that has been spun using non-drop-frame control track pulse counters, multiply the result on the non-drop frame counter by .999. If you’ve spun a show using a non-drop frame control track pulse counter by accident, subtract 3.6 seconds per hour, or 1 second for every 16.67 minutes. This is a ball park estimate; your mileage may vary.
If your show runs shorter than it was supposed to, you possibly did your timings using non-drop-frame on the control track pulse counter.
If your show runs longer than it was supposed to, you possibly have your show material time-coded with non-drop-frame time code. An 24-hour broadcast day can be out by about a minute and a half in one direction or the other, if all control track pulse counters or time code generators are in the non-drop-frame mode by accident
Analog Editing Systems
Despite the array of available equipment, videotape editing comes down to two basic systems: single-source editing, and multiple-source editing. When videotape was first introduced, tape was actually cut with a razor blade and spliced together like audio tape. The microscope thing is what was called a Smith splicer, and allowed precision physical edits to be made. To make an edit in these days, you as the editor would push the stop button where you wanted the edit to occur. You would mark the tape with a grease pencil, carefully unthread the tape from the quad machine, then put it in the Smith splicer. You can’t see video tracks, so you would then wipe a “developer fluid” (essentially very fine iron filings suspended in alcohol) over the videotape which would magically reveal the tracks. You’d find the nearest control track pulse, and gingerly make your edit with the hinged blade. The second piece of tape (the continuation of your show) would be stopped, marked, developed and hacked in a similar fashion, and then the two pieces would be put together with adhesive splicing tape.
“straight cuts only” system, since there is not a second source to which you may perform transitions. The two machines are operated via an editing control unit that allows: selection of precise edit points; control of VTR rolls; control of play and record modes (assemble, insert) and editing of audio and video tracks separately or together. Most units also allow you to: see and hear the tape at other than normal speeds; run a trial edit so you can rehearse it before actually performing it; trim the editing point frame by frame; perform split edits (edit video and audio separately without their affecting each other); and review the edit once it’s been performed.
The multiple-source editing system consists of two or more sources (VTRs, character generator, stillstore, etc.) generally labelled with letters (A, B, C, and so forth), and a record VTR. Most of the time, multiple-source systems are also interfaced with a switcher, audio console, audio tape machine, special effects and signal processing equipment. Most multiple-source editing systems use SMPTE time code.
The key element of these systems is the computerized editing control unit, capable of storing and performing many different editing functions automatically. In addition to the functions performed by a single-source editing unit, it can: locate any frame on either the source or record VTRs; preroll and run all VTRs in sync, simultaneously or staggered; preview and perform a variety of switcher-type transitions; do audio crossfades and other transitions; store many editing decisions (in an “edit decision list,” or EDL); shift any one edit point, with all the others moving accordingly; print a hard copy of the EDL; interface with a wide variety of VTRs and other production equipment; use the “user bits” in SMPTE time code for scene numbers or videotape reels. Because of this increased complexity, when working with multiple source editing units, you have to learn a few more controls and procedures than when using single source units.
In the beginning, to get moving pictures recorded, there was motion picture film. Editing film meant finding the right shot on the reels (via a Movieola or flat bed editing machine); cutting on the individual frame lines; and splicing using tape, film cement, or a hot splicer. To keep track of all of these shots, the ribbons of cut film would be hung on a rail with a box below it (to catch the tail ends) – this was called a film bin. The process was slow and tedious, but very direct, and the editor felt in control. There’s nothing quite like touching the actual frames of the shot. You could actually see how long a shot was, by looking at the film strip. The process was not perfect, however. Film would get shredded or sometimes lost somewhere in the bottom of the bin (or on the floor, whereupon the cat would eat it.)
Now, the phrase nonlinear editing is the buzz word in the electronic editing field. Nonlinear editing systems digitize and store analog footage onto computer hard disk drives, providing random access from that digital storage. The editing process takes place on a computer, running appropriate software to perform various functions. The video and audio information is stored on large computer hard drives, where it can be viewed, modified, and eventually played back in real time from the system. The concept of having quick access to video information is a very powerful one. This allows the editor to arrange and re-arrange material to his or her heart’s content, when the work can then be output directly to air or to more traditional videotape.
In many systems, shots are displayed on the computer screen as being stored in a list, contained within a bin – the old film term comes back. This list can be displayed and sorted according to name, length, or any of several other categories. To view any shot, you just click on it with a mouse or trackball interface, and drag it onto the source screen where it’s available for viewing. With nonlinear, there is no waiting for tapes to spool to preview a segment.
One of the best things about nonlinear editing, is that the edit is instant – no splicing and waiting for the glue to set as in film, and no having to actually play back the entire shot for its full duration, as in videotape. One mouse click and it’s done – on to the next edit. And the shot can, of course, be placed absolutely anywhere, even in between two frames of a previously laid down shot. Obviously, to have instant access to all of your shots, you have to shoot on a non-digital camera and VTR, and dump the raw footage into the nonlinear editing system, but this requires only one VTR (you can use the same videotape machine to record the finished product afterwards, too.) The down side of this, however, is the cost of hard drive storage – many editors only dub over the final takes of their shoot, not all of their raw footage.
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