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Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?

Occasionally I'll find myself in a discussion about FCP or Avid or Adobe certifications, typically on Twitter because where else do I ever talk to anyone? Usually a younger editor is asking about a specific certification, and a dozen industry vets jump in and go on and on about how certification is a complete waste of time and money, and no one should ever under any circumstances get a certification.

And I won't be surprised if any comments I get on this post are more of the same because I'm going to be uncharacteristically blunt and tell you that your opinion of certification is probably wrong.

Oh no I di'n't, girlfriend.

Yeah, I'll say it! If you can find no worth in a software certification for anyone, you're dead wrong. Boom. End of story. If you think I'm a moron, at least one of the following thoughts is probably yours. Here is why you are wrong.

"Certification just shows you can push some buttons."

EXACTLY. That is true, to an extent. If you have a certification, it shows that to some degree of accuracy determine by the powers that be, you can effectively control an NLE. Or you understand it well enough to feel your way through it. You have to have a good foundation in it, or else you wouldn't have passed the test. Does it mean you're a great editor? Hell no! Is it an indicator that you know what you're doing? Hell no! No one is saying that. They're just saying "I know where to hit the buttons in Avid to make the things do stuff, and here's proof." This is really useful for a younger editor. The job market is beyond saturated. If you don't have a lot of reputation or experience, you'll get filtered out quickly for the smallest reasons. A certification could possibly keep you in the hiring process through a round of cut-offs, simply because you have some tiny amount of demonstrable technical skill.

"A certification won't get you hired."

Nobody in their right mind gets a certification thinking it alone will lead directly to a post job. A certification is supporting evidence in two ways: 1) you can push the previously mentioned buttons; and 2) you are motivated enough to accomplish something that does require a good degree of studying and effort, not to mention some travel and time away is sometimes involved. Have you ever looked at a certification exam? I would bet many busy editors would fail because they aren't that deeply ingrained in the interface. They found their own path and have stuck with it. If you learn the software the way the manufacturer intended, you might be able to approach it a little differently. You might learn 3 ways to make something happen. You'll undoubtedly evolve -- and you should, because what the hell does a manufacturer know about real world editing? -- but you'll also be more open to taking different paths to the same end.

If you're naturally a good editor, you might find yourself a little frustrated at your technical skills. Your left brain can't keep up with your right brain. When I was in college finishing my degree, I was a little worried about my tech skills. I knew I had to be top notch when I entered the job market, and school just didn't give me everything I wanted. My professor suggested certification (I'm simplifying the story here though), so I did it. It gave me a broader understanding of FCP on a technical level that opened the doors to digging deeper which made me more confident overall.

"A certification doesn't help you tell your story."

Being fluent in the technology absolutely helps you tell a story. If you aren't distracted by the technical aspects of editing, you can work faster and spend more time on editorial decisions. A certification can serve as your foundation to being fluent in the tech.

"People who are certified always start off job interviews talking about it like it matters."

Maybe some do, but these are probably the same people who don't really understand their industry. Maybe they're inexperienced, maybe they're dense. You can't avoid either case in ANY industry. A few people that think their certification is a passport to greatness doesn't negate the entirety of certification.

And in many markets to many hiring dudes, certifications don't matter at all. However, if you're in a smaller city or you're applying to corporate jobs, you might be interviewed by an HR person, at least for the first round. You have to get past them to get to the person you really want to talk to, and they don't know anything about your industry. They speak in credentials. Lines on a resume matter to THEM.

"OK, take the class then, but why spend the money on the actual certification?"

Why NOT get the actual certification? You took the time to learn all the information in a specific way, drop the extra money for the piece of paper proving you did it. You can list it on your resume. You'll be in the database, have the paper, and maybe even get some logo you can use somewhere officially if you follow the 20 page rulebook on usage.

"There is no reason to get certified."


Let's see:
Gets you past the threshold of "does this silly person even know ANYTHING?"
Can help your confidence as an editor.
Shows you're committed.
Helps your storytelling skills indirectly.
A solid credential if it matters to your market.
A firm foundation of the NLE which might open you to things you missed in self-learning.
Motivation to keep learning, for the goal-oriented among us.
Newer editors can use it as leverage to show they give a damn. Older editors can use it to show their skills are still relevant.

AND: A FRAME-ABLE PIECE OF PAPER!

That's my argument. Yeah, certification isn't for everyone. But it's not for no one.



Posted by: Kylee Peña on Nov 29, 2012 at 5:39:58 pmComments (17) certification, post production

Films Take Forever - My First Feature (The Impersonators)

This is an on-going post-production diary I’m keeping while I cut my first feature film, The Impersonators, an indie comedy.

I just realized it's been two months since I last updated about The Impersonators.

The reason is because there hasn't been much to say. Or so I thought. You see, everything has been going really smoothly. Avid has been mostly cooperating. The scenes have been coming together well. Everything is organized, in place, and running well.

I delivered the first rough cut of the whole film a few weeks ago. Some decisions have been made for pickup shoots that won't be happening until the spring. Needless to say, I have a lot of time to work with the editors cut and start figuring out the sound design, as it seems I'll be doing much of the sound editing as well. But not the final mix. I know my limits.

There's still a lot of work to be done. It IS a rough cut, and all of the scenes need to be individually assessed. Some need to be rebuilt. But technically speaking, I've had absolutely no issues with Avid beyond the initial hiccup of the media not wanting to ingest properly. 

I didn't think I had much to say about this since everything went better than expected, but here's a list of the stuff I did that I liked and didn't like about my first feature rough cut.

- I'm glad I watched every take and took notes. I only occasionally went back into the notes to check on what I wanted, but it helped me to remember my thoughts anyway. However, I wish I had done a lined script instead of just listing notes. It would have helped me a lot with grabbing the proper takes.
- I wish I had an assistant to sync audio. I was my own assistant. I was a damn fine assistant, too!
- Note cards on a wall were a definite plus. This is a pretty linear film, but I still needed the reference point of a note card occasionally to figure out where I was within the narrative.
- Choosing Avid was the right way to go. After the setup, I had no real issues and I can be reasonably confident that the media is being managed properly. Stuff isn't going to disappear offline.
- Splitting the sequences in Avid by scene was a good call for me. It's not always one scene at a time, as some scenes are really short inserts, but I did split up everything by scenes and acts and it's been helpful for focusing on one thing at a time. After I make more changes, I'm going to start to combine things into longer sequences to be sure scenes are flowing properly into each other. Then eventually, everything will be assembled into one timeline.
- Screenlight has been really nice for previews. It's quick and secure and it plays on anything. That's been a relief.

So it seems I'll be working with this cut until the spring when we add and alter more scenes. I'm sure I'll have a lot to say when I start doing sound effects, because audio is a dark art that very few understand. I'm glad the director is willing to take the time necessary to plan and shoot what's needed to tell the story in the best way possible. I'm also glad I've been given such freedom to assemble the film without someone hanging over my shoulder. I appreciate collaborative filmmakers. Too many directors are unwilling to hand over their footage to a dedicated editor.

Anyway, we're still on track to complete the film in 2013. But films take forever, man!


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Nov 24, 2012 at 8:23:52 pmComments (1) editing, independent film

Parenthood in Production and Post: Being an Editor Mom

For the conclusion to my epic trilogy on parenthood in production and post, I've been thinking a lot about tortoises.

(You may have figured out by now that I enjoy animal metaphors.)

You see, a female tortoise will crawl out of the ocean up onto the beach, find a nice safe, sandy area, and plop out a bunch of eggs. Then…she high tails it back into the ocean, and the little babies hatch and supposedly instinctively head into the sea as well to start their own lives. If they make it without some winged creature snatching them up, that is.

I feel like this is how people tend to think about editor moms, especially people outside the industry. Working moms, they're tortoises. They do their part, and head back into their career and expect that the kids will be reasonably self-sufficient or whatever. I mean, how could any woman choose to part with their children for the sake of a career? My word! < /1962 >

And unfairly, it seems more guilt is pushed onto female editors who have kids.

Well, it turns out it's not only possible to balance being a good mother with being a good editor, but it happens a LOT. Women in every kind of video production market from LA to the Heartland to the deep South (probably) are providing for their families, making sacrifices, and pursuing their life's passion. And one of them is Monica Daniel.

Monica has an unconventional background as an editor. She didn't go to film school. Instead, she has a Bachelor of Science in psychology, and an unofficial minor in dance choreography. Many editors that find their way to post in or after college find their rhythm through other means, and for Monica it was through dance. Her last year of school, she realized she wanted to be in film and television and attended a filmmaking bootcamp called the Digital Video Intensive. From there, she moved to LA to try her luck and eventually made her way to E! Entertainment. There, she quickly made her way from Production Assistant to Assistant Editor, then was promoted to Editor after a year and a half. 



Monica has been with her husband Mario for 15 years, married for 5. She has two children, Gabriel and Ivy, ages 3 and 1 1/2.


When you first began your career, what were your thoughts or plans on having a family? 


I knew I always wanted a family but I didn't know when. I wanted to be more established and financially stable before I had children. Children are very expensive and time consuming.

Why did you want to have children?

I have always been family oriented. The idea of having children to play with and discover new things with is very appealing. 
 
How did your family life determine where you chose to live?

Ideally I would be living in an area with a better school system, but that would require a longer commute and more time in traffic and less time with my children. Los Angeles can be a very expensive place to live and unfortunately we had to balance proximity to work with what was affordable and a good enough neighborhood. We are still figuring out what we can do to get better schooling for our children when they are old enough. I may have to end up working more hours to pay for private school.




When you were discussing the prospect of adding kids to your family, what did you think would be the main challenge? What ended up being the main challenge?


We were always worried about money and who would take care of them if we were both at work and these concerns ended up being the biggest challenge. Luckily, I make enough money as an editor to take care of my family while my husband stays at home and watches the kids. The biggest challenge actually came this past year when we learned that our son, who is now 3 years old, is Autistic. He attends a special pre-school and has several therapies per week to help him with his Autism. I do my best to make sure that his special therapies are paid for, and my husband takes him to his therapy and evaluations. 
 
As a woman, how did you maintain your career during pregnancy and maternity leave? Were you ever concerned that you wouldn't be taken seriously or might be passed over for opportunities because of pregnancy and motherhood?

I was lucky because at the division of NBC Universal that I work at, they provide maternity leave benefits and are very understanding when it comes to pregnancy. Benefits were also provided through the state. I was concerned about how people viewed me while I was pregnant and I didn't tell anyone until I was further along but I have a very established reputation where I work and it didn't concern people as far as quality of my work was concerned. While I was 9 months pregnant with my daughter, I was even asked to be the on site editor for the Red Carpet coverage of the Academy Awards. The Producers had their pick of editors and they asked me to take the very stressful and critical on site editing position despite my condition. My circumstances are not the norm, but the exception. Anywhere else I would have been very nervous and worried. Even though it is illegal to discriminate against pregnancy, it still happens unofficially. Someone else will get hired over you because they are not pregnant. 

Did you ever worry about missing opportunities in your career to be home with children? On the flip side, did you ever worry about missing moments with your kids because of your career? How do you balance this? Do you feel like it's a sacrifice in some ways?

I think about this every day. No matter what choice I make, I am sacrificing something. I love my job and I love my children. My job requires long hours and when I work on scripted projects, it is even longer hours. I want memories of my children growing up. I am still trying to find the balance. I end up sacrificing my own health to spend as much time with my children as I can. I don't get nearly as much sleep as I should, all of my exercise comes from playing with my kids, and I have very little time for myself. 



When you're in the middle of a big project with long hours, how does it affect your family life? How do you alter things to make your family life manageable in these situations?

It is very difficult. My husband is understanding but it is still a challenge. I try to see my kids every moment I can. The main reason I agreed to get an iPhone was so I can FaceTime with the kids when I am at work for long hours. 

I think we'd agree that the editing world is male-dominated. As an editor mom, how do you handle yourself in this predominately male environment?

I do work mostly with men. I grew up with my brothers and uncles so I am used to being around the boys. I work hard to earn the respect of my male colleagues and that includes producers and directors as well. I never use being a female as an excuse for anything. I depict myself as a professional editor, not a female editor. I once had a job interview to cut special features for a documentary. In the interview, the Producer told me he would probably assign me the package about a love story because as a woman I would be better at cutting romance over action. I actually prefer action over romance, but the producer's assumption that I would be better at a love story because I am a woman is just one stereotype I have had to deal with. It doesn't help that I am on the shorter side and look 12 years younger than I am, so to someone who meets me for the first time, I do look a bit like a little girl.

How do you deal with childcare and unexpected challenges that come up when raising kids (i.e. sickness) while also balancing often time-sensitive tasks such as editing on a deadline?

Daycare is very expensive but a necessity for us. My husband mainly takes care of the children because of my unpredictable work schedules.
 
When working from home, how do you manage your time with your children around? 

I have my edit system in a separate room. I will have lunch with the kids and take breaks to be with them. They are both in daycare now so during the day it isn't much of an issue during the day.
 
Some in the industry use the phrase "golden handcuffs" to refer to having to pass on or not seek further opportunities that involve more risk but may also progress your career further because of the responsibility of having a family. Do you feel like you're in a "golden handcuffs" situation? What's your opinion on this outlook?

I am definitely in a Golden Handcuffs situation. Currently my income supports my family and I can't afford to not work at my current editing rates. I have been recently speaking with more people on the high profile scripted projects and they all tell me the same things. It requires really long hours and additional hours of your own time to edit independently. I have worked on independent scripted projects but not a studio project. If I wanted to transition into scripted studio projects I would have to go back to Assisting. Which means less pay for more hours. I am still learning as much as I can about Assisting in the scripted world just in case one day I may be able to take a job offer. Even though the odds are working against me right now, I haven't given it up.



I see you occasionally lamenting the idea of working on more narrative projects, but not being willing or able to take the increase in hours and decrease in pay. This dilemma weighs heavily on many editors, parents or not. How do you deal with this?

I am at a crossroads in my career right now where I would like to move it in a different direction. Even though I have the "Golden Handcuffs" to deal with, I have not given up on leading my career where I want it to be. I attend Editing seminars, attend user groups, mixers, give presentations about my work and meet new people in post all the time. My path may be a slower path but I don't want to face my children in the future and tell them that their mother gave up without even trying. 

Do your kids understand if you're not around or busy for periods at a time? What do you hope they learn from seeing your work?

They are too young to understand why I am gone. They just know I am gone. It is really tough when my husband tells me that the children were asking for me and they tell him to pick me up so I can play with them.
 
Despite the challenges of parenthood, what are the positives to having kids? What makes it worthwhile?


Kids are wonderful. Everything is new to them. They look to you as their parent for comfort and unconditional love. It is a great feeling and hard to describe. They are so proud of their little accomplishments and it reminds me that there are some things that my career cannot replace.

What is your advice to someone in the industry who is considering having children, but is worried about being able to have a career and a family?

It will be hard for everyone. You must remind yourself what is important to you. There is no easy answer. This is a very competitive industry. I am competing with people who will do anything to succeed. I will not sacrifice the well being of my family for my career. They are more important. I use my career to support my family. Luckily, I love my career.

Across all careers, there's an old fashioned notion that once you have kids, as a woman you'll settle down and focus on raising them instead of your career. You're one of many women who don't choose that path. What do you have to say to someone that would question your decision?

I do not only live for my children but for myself as well. As a parent you want to be an example for your children. I want to show them that you can have a family and follow your dreams. 



-

Breaking news: you can be a great mom and a successful editor without being a land-dwelling reptile about it. Monica has figured out a balance between work and kids, and it can serve as an inspiration to all parents in our industry. We all make sacrifices in different areas of our lives, and a female editor might sometimes feel a heavier burden. I think it's important for women in post to discuss this and realize that so many of us are in the same rocky boat of balancing home life and pursuing more aspects of an editing career. And it doesn't have to be children. All home life applies -- newly married spouses figuring out how to compromise on an area to settle in; childless couples taking less fulfilling work to earn more money to buy a home; or even individuals trying to maintain friendships with erratic work schedules with long hours. I didn't make these issues up and they aren't mine. I saw them all mentioned on Twitter just today

The thing is, regardless of your circumstances, everyone has a home life and perhaps a family life, and it's something that requires careful thought and cultivation to maintain. At some point in your editing career, you have to consider how much give you have between the two. And you aren't the only one trying to feel your way through this.

I know I said this was a three part exploration in parenthood, but I'm kind of silly so screw it. I'm keeping the conversation going, and not just about parenthood. There's more to the story than this one aspect of an editor's personal life, and I aim to dig it up. Look for more posts about figuring out all that messy life stuff that gets in the way when you're just trying to transcode some stuff, man.

You can find Monica's work on several shows produced by NBC Universal. You can also find her on Twitter or her blog.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Nov 5, 2012 at 9:00:07 pm parenthood, post production

Parenthood in Production and Post: A Modern Director Mom

In my exploration of parenthood and family in the video industry, I wondered what parenthood looked like to someone who was strictly involved in the production side of things, namely the director. As an editor, I'm not a part of that world, and it's obviously important to the process. Otherwise I have nothing to, uh, cut.

Directors are busy. Sets are unforgiving. Schedules can be nightmarish. How does anyone direct a film and raise a family, let alone a woman? Is it possible to be a mom and a successful director?

For Kate Chaplin, a writer/director in Indianapolis, it turns out that question is just the opposite. In my search for answers on raisin' babies in today's video work, my perspective has always been "how do kids fit into my world?" Kate offers a new perspective: "how have children inspired me to pursue my dreams?"

So as a selfish 20something who has always thought of kids as dream-wreckers until recently*, I decided I'd better listen up.

(*I'm just kidding, put your pitchforks away.)

Kate got into the business when she started making music videos with an old VHS-C camcorder she held as collateral from a boyfriend who owed her money. From there, she started working for her high school's TV station, and eventually moved to California to attend UCLA. Life took her from LA to Georgia and back to Indianapolis, where she runs her own production company producing short and feature films, and has worked on projects for Discovery, VH1, and CMT. Kate also values education, participating in speaking opportunities at local schools, Indiana University, and the Indianapolis International Film Festival.

Kate has been married to her husband Joshua Leach for 14 years. They have two daughters: Kami, 9 and Samantha, 5.



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When you first began your career, what were your thoughts or plans on having a family?

In LA I knew I wanted kids but we couldn't afford good medical coverage and we didn't want to raise our kids in CA. The school system and the peer pressure. So the Army was a viable choice as this was before Sept 11th. We would get 100% medical and be able to travel. We were still talking about it when Sept 11th happened and my husband thought it was a sign to do more for his country and signed up that day. Three months later we were in Georgia and I was pregnant.

As your career progressed, did your outlook on family life change?


It was actually the reverse. As my family life changed to now being a mom, it made my career all more important. When introducing my new daughter to my parents my dad asked "what is she going to be when she grows up?" and I said "what ever she wants to be." It was a wake up call. I knew that I couldn't truly support her in her dreams if I didn't fight for mine. I had always wanted to be a filmmaker, but was really half-assing it up until then. I was waiting for someone to notice me, yet not putting myself out there. I wanted my kids to see me fight for my dreams and work hard at them so they would have a foundation to stand on when they fight for theirs. Those who have regrets for things they wanted and didn't do seem to sabotage others and I knew I never wanted to be that person in my daughter's life.

Why did you want to have children?

I always wanted to have kids. There was something in me that felt I wouldn't be complete without being able to unconditionally love and nurture someone.

How did your family life determine where you chose to live?

Wanting a family got us out of LA. We wanted to stay in Georgia, but Savannah is actually a small town with few jobs. So we decided to come live near my parents in Indianapolis because then we'd have a circle of support. My brother also lives in Michigan, and we'd be closer to him and his family as well. Indiana had/has good job opportunities, good schools, culture and diversity (I wish there was more diversity though).

As a woman, how did you maintain your career during pregnancy and maternity leave? Were you ever concerned that you wouldn't be taken seriously or might be passed over for opportunities because of pregnancy and motherhood?

I was lucky. I was an Army wife so I didn't have a "real" job. In fact, we had one car so Josh would take it to the base and I'd stay at home while pregnant. I worked on my writing while pregnant. I wrote scripts and articles and was submitting constantly. When I was pregnant with Samantha I filmed LOSS, my second film as Karmic Courage Productions. The crew was very aware of the situation and we scheduled no mornings (because of morning sickness), they made sure I ate and was almost always seated. I have to say, it made for a great work environment because no one wanted to get too stressed out with a preggers lady at the helm. When Samantha was 8 months old, I made my next film, First They Came for... The prep was harder with an infant, but it was a learning experience to find the balance.

There's not a ton of production opportunities in Indianapolis. How do you turn that around to your advantage? How does this strain your family life?


I don't really think about it. I just want to make the films I have resources and funds to make. The main goal is to keep making films and getting them out there to people. I take the opportunity to work with other production companies to raise funds for my next project. They can sometimes be few and far between so I wait to make my next one until the funds are there.

Josh and I have a deal that by me staying at home I'm saving us childcare costs. Both my girls started school full time this fall. I have one year to start making a living at filmmaking or it's back to the work sector for a paycheck. It does strain not having two incomes but we've made it work because my family knows I've got a limited time to fullfill my passion. We still have enough money to feed, educate and clothe my children and this opportunity is showing them that it's hard work fighting for a dream but it's worth it.

Did you ever worry about missing opportunities in your career to be home with children? On the flip side, did you ever worry about missing moments with your kids because of your career? How do you balance this? Do you feel like it's a sacrifice in some ways?

I have missed working on great films due to childcare. There was a project that was a month long that I really wanted to work on. I gave the producer the number of how much childcare would cost and he couldn't afford that so I was off the project. I have turned down projects that are filming on my children's birthdays. We're Buddhist and don't really celebrate Christmas and Easter so birthdays are a big deal at our house. I do not work on my children's birthdays.

I do worry about missing moments because I'm working. I have been lucky to see their first steps, hear their first words, see them go to their first days of school. I talk to them everyday whether I'm on set or not and they tell me about their day. It's all a balance of what I'm there for and what I miss. I make a point to never miss the big stuff where they want mommy the cheerleader there. My kids honestly know that I am there for them no matter what. They come first.

How I balance? I judge their mood. I spend a lot of time on the computer in my office. They will come in and ask to play and if they seem pretty sad, I stop and play. If they have asked me for something to eat a billion times, it's also a code that they want some attention and we'll go play. I try to not work too many long days in a row so we balance out. What helps the balance is they know I'm fighting for my dreams and I expect them to do the same. To be hard-workers and be passionate about what they love but not ignore their family.



When you're in the middle of a big project with long hours, how does it affect your family life? How do you alter things to make your family life manageable in these situations?

Working on a big project does affect the family. I know it affects Josh more than the girls because Josh sees my stress more. Again, it's balance. I try not to work on weekends when Josh is home or I work one day of the weekend with a time limit. Josh and I really tag-team parenting. He takes over when I'm busy and vice versa. My mom and dad are close and we have great friends who will watch the girls so that both of us can get work done and the girls won't be bored.

Video and film professionals often work independently running a business or as freelancers. How did this play into your family plans? How do you deal with things like having funds for kids' activities, having health care insurance or funds for childbirth and kids, or generally just running a household without necessarily having a traditional full time job with benefits?

Josh's job allows me to do what I do, running a company and doing freelance. His job provides pretty good medical and a close to stable income. I do still need to bring in money to keep my company afloat and big freelance projects allow for vacations or extra funds for the kids. I've also been attached to more projects that get cancelled than I've actually worked on, so sometimes family plans are a little weird. I'll tell the kids we can't do an event, and then we can. They are used to things being in flux.

When I was writing and staying at home I was awesome at housework. Once I started making movies I really have sucked at keeping the house up.

How do you deal with childcare and unexpected challenges that come up when raising kids (i.e. sickness) while also balancing often time-sensitive tasks such as directing a film?

When directing I make sure that my kids are with my husband or my mom. I plan shoots knowing their schedule. They work together to make sure the kids are where they need to be, school, ballet, home, on set, etc. I've had shoot when the kids were little and had two "baby wranglers." It was nice having a make-shift daycare on set.

In prep for a film, everything is planned. Location scouting, production meetings. I know when I can get childcare and when I can't. My kids always know what the week ahead brings and who they might visit during the week. I also work a lot at home when they are asleep.

If I'm doing freelance, I have less control over the schedule so I let the producer know that I'm a mom and if my kids get sick or have I have to pick them up from school, I'm going home. It's family first. I do everything I can to have helpers so I can stay on set. Once I had a location scout that took longer than expected and I was 5 minutes late picking my daughter up from school. She was in the school office crying and I promised I would never do that again and just in case, we came up with a game plan for her to get home. Lesson learned.

When working from home, how do you manage your time with your children around?


That is THE hardest thing. This year is my first year of both girls in full time school. Before that there was always a little one here. When they were little it was always about a pen and paper following them around. I'd work a lot at night or during naps. I'd take them to playgrounds (McDonalds was a good one) and let them play while I worked. I'd come up with super tiring games with a lot of running around so they'd take a longer nap. If they fell asleep in the car, I'd stay parked somewhere and take phone calls. And I hate to say it but if I really needed some time to work on something it was DVD time. I knew I'd get 2 hours to get something done with little interruption. Most of the time I'd be right next to them working but as they got older I could go into my office and work. Basically I'd find every waking moment I can to work.




Some in the industry use the phrase "golden handcuffs" to refer to having to pass on or not seek further opportunities that involve more risk but may also progress your career further because of the responsibility of having a family. Do you feel like you're in a "golden handcuffs" situation? What's your opinion on this outlook?


I'm very aware of my situation and my limitations and I work with them. I don't seek out freelance outside the state because I have little kids. I don't take on jobs that are low pay for many days. If I can come home each night, it's great, no matter how late the kids are happier when they know I am asleep in the house. A few days away are fine for my family. A week or longer, that gets tough on everyone. I only commit to things that are a benefit to my family, i.e. money or a film/show they can see. I've turned down high paying gigs that are on my daughters' birthdays or ballet recitles because it doesn't matter how much anyone pays me my kids need me then, they need me there to know that I support and love them.

What other challenges do you have with balancing a film career with children, if any?

A cute one is that Kami, my oldest, likes to be in my films. She's had a cameo in almost all of them. On the last one, Ingenue, Kami had a big role and it really wore her out. She was used to being on set for a few hours, doing her little part and being done. This was 11 days and some days she was on set all day without her sister and she had a few melt downs due to being so tired. She says she still wants to act but we'll take it one role at a time. She's great to work with but it's a lot of a kid to be on set when their mom is busy directing.

What was the hardest part about being a mom and shooting a feature film?

The feature + mom was tough. I scheduled it with being a mom in mind. I scheduled it for summer so no one would have to pick my kids up from school, or take Kami out of school because she had big part in the film. I scheduled for 4 days on 3 days off. This helped me and my family. I organized babysitters way ahead of time. I have a wonderful support system of people who love to take my kids to the park, or the zoo and keep them happy and entertained. The filming wasn't as bad as the pre-production. Lots of meetings scattered throughout a year. Always working on Ingenue but the filming date so far out. they have a short attention span and had a hard time understanding why it was taking so long to start filming.

Do your kids understand if you're not around or busy for periods at a time? What do you hope Kami and Samantha learn from seeing your work?

They understand that making movies is what I really want to do. "Daddy has a job, but Mommy makes movies" is how they sum it up. If they forget, I take their love-of-the-moment and explain. For example, Kami wanted to be a Zoo Keeper a few years ago and she didn't want me to work the next day. I asked her to picture herself all grown up and working as a zoo keeper and washing the elephants and having a great time and then not being able to come into the work the next day. I asked her if she'd miss being able to be at the zoo and take care of the animals, she agreed it would be hard to be away from the elephants. I explained that that is a lot like my job. I like making movies and being on set and I want to go work but I always come home.

I really try to take on projects my daughters can see. They see all of my films but some freelance projects I haven't let them see but I tell them about it. Having them at the premiere or a screening or even bringing home the DVD lets them have proof that mommy was working on something. I also like having them on set when someone is there to take care of them. They are both super quiet and understand "quiet on set." There was a feature film I was a script supervisor on and they filmed a scene in my house and Kami was my assistant for a few hours. The director explained what was happening in the scene, I showed her what I was writing down and how important it was, she tried not to laugh at the actors in their comedic scene, but as soon as "cut" was yelled she burst out with "Great job! You guys are so funny!" The actors loved it as it was a true honest reaction.

Despite the challenges of parenthood, what are the positives to having kids? What makes it worthwhile?

I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if it wasn't for having kids. They have taught me to work harder. They have given me the inspiration to do my best. They show me that dreams are worth fighting for. They are there when I come home late and give me a hug and tell me they missed me. They watch my films and tell me I did a good job. They are my biggest fans and I am theirs.

The films I make are determined by the things I hope to teach and show my daughters when they are ready. I make films with strong female characters for them. I don't believe there are enough female characters for them to draw inspiration from, so when I write I think of the message they will get out of it - at their age and when they are older.

It sounds like if you hadn't had children, you probably wouldn't be directing films at all.


Correct. I would have hid in the retail world with a love of movies, but never have picked up a camera and done something about it.



What is your advice to someone in the industry who is considering having children, but is worried about being able to have a career and a family?

Weigh your passions. Having children is not for everyone. Don't have kids because you think you have to, have kids because you want to. There is no getting around it, having kids will change your life. For me it made my life better. If career is more important than family then go full-fledged into a career. If family is important and you won't feel complete without one, have one. You can balance both. In fact, drawing inspiration from your children and giving back inspiration to your children is the way to go. They won't always understand the day-to-day of your job but if they know it's what you love to do, they will understand that and it will help them with their goals and passions. Have a circle of support around you at all times. Child-raising is hard and there are times you want to crack under the pressure. Have babysitters and friends with kids who understand, they will be there for you before you can even ask them.

--

I was glad to hear this side of the story from Kate. She's making things happen for herself in a smaller video production market, and she's showing her daughters what's possible if you act on your dreams.

And she stays busy. Kate is currently in post-production on her first feature film Ingenue, tentatively scheduled for completion in spring 2013. She's also producing a short called The Dream Job to be paired with that film. Kate is working on finishing her memoir I Blame Lucas, a chronology of 50 films that inspired her to pursue directing. You can follow her on Twitter or read her blog for more information.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Oct 15, 2012 at 7:36:33 pmComments (1) parenthood, directing

Parenthood in Production and Post: Being a Editor Dad

As a woman of child-bearing age who has recently begun the descent into the back half of her 20's, I'd be lying if the idea of reproducing wasn't at least on my mind. It's floating around somewhere in the back, mostly, but it's there. Lurking.

Obviously there are many among us who choose not to breed, which is a completely legitimate and respectable decision. I don't know whether it's a biological process that affects some of us differently, a societal role thing that creeps into our psyche, or just the sociopathic desire to create and ruin a human being in our own special way, but a lot of us want to make them babies. Regardless, I've pondered this thought of parenthood periodically. To put it bluntly, how will having a completely dependent screamy little person put a kink in my editorial career? And does asking this question automatically disqualify me from having one?

I've noticed that a lot of my friends and Twitter friends in the biz have decided to have children at some point in their careers anyway, and are doing just fine. But how? Why? Isn't video production difficult enough already? How can you possibly be successful in video while raising a kid that doesn't grow up to resent you? How do you have the best of both worlds? Can you?

I talked to three people in the video business who I knew would have unique angles on this subject. Tim Wilsbach, a freelance editor who is a relatively recent LA transplant from my city; Kate Chaplin, an Indianapolis area director and writer; and Monica Daniel, a freelance editor in LA. They offered a vast variety of career goals and paths, and experiences as parents.

Each perspective ended up being so uniquely interesting, I decided to split this blog into three parts. For this first segment, I'm talking to Tim Wilsbach about the somewhat unconventional path he's blazed in the industry.

A lot of people choose to move to LA to try to make their careers happen. While Tim has had a long career in post-production, he's only lived in LA since 2011. As Tim put it, "Most people move to LA sometime in their 20s as they're just beginning to carve out a place for themselves in the industry. They're able to split the insane rents with roommates and work super-long hours as post-PAs, assistants and then editors. I moved to LA when I was 38 after being married for three years and with a two and a half year old in tow."



Even though Tim is a fairly recent addition to LA, he's had a long post-production career that started in Indianapolis. He graduated from the Telecommunications and Theatre and Drama programs at Indiana University, and soon started out as a Senior Editor at WFYI. There, the editing bug bit him when he cut an independent feature at night. He spent the next ten years as a freelance editor, getting national television credits on ABC, ESPN, Discovery, A&E, VH-1, and Speed. Oh, and lots of corporate videos. He moved his family to LA to edit at the NFL Network for football season, and hasn't stopped working since.

Tim has been married for over four years to his wife Nancy, and they have a three year old son named Riley.

When you first began your career, what were your thoughts or plans on having a family?

Tim: When I first began my career I didn't have thoughts about a family. I was young and male. I wanted to have drinks with friends, go where the wind took me and write and perform music with my band.

As your career progressed, did your outlook on family life change?

My outlook on family life progressed independent of my career. It was driven mainly by my now wife, who I'd been dating for almost as long as I've had a career. Don't take that the wrong way, I was a willing participant and knew I wanted kids, you know...eventually. I just had no concrete plans in place for such a thing, and would have continued putting it off. I'm sure there are guys like me who were "not ready for kids yet". I think I would have perpetually held that opinion if it weren't for my wife helping me along.

Why did you want to have children?

I have a brother and a sister, and I grew up around my grandparents and was very close with my Aunt's family and her three kids. Family was and is a big part of my life, especially while I was growing up and I wanted to perpetuate that tradition. Plus my only brother has three girls so if I wanted the Wilsbach name to live on I had to get busy.

How did your family life determine where you chose to live?

It didn't. Mine and Nancy's philosophy is that kids enter your lives, you don't enter theirs. More importantly, our outlook on how we bring up our son is more about life at home and less about where that home is located geographically.

During the pregnancy and birth of a child, it seems common that men don't get the kind of leave or time at home they desire. Did you have any trouble with managing work during your wife's pregnancy, or in the weeks after birth?

Well...interesting story about that...my first introduction to work in Los Angeles was during my wife's pregnancy. I got the opportunity to cut a show that would take me to LA for 2.5 months which put me back in Indianapolis about two weeks before her due date. We discussed it, she encouraged me to go so we made the decision to do it. It can't be said enough how encouraging and how much of a rock star my wife is.



We made sure I got all the big things done before I left, building the crib, fresh paint for the babys room, strollers, car seats etc. etc. And I flew back a few weekends. The show wrapped in plenty of time and we had the baby about a month after I got back in town. After the baby was born it was pretty slow for me for about 4-6 weeks, so it kind of worked out. I'd do a day or two a week as it popped up. Money was a little tight, but it was nice to spend that time at home.

Did you ever worry about missing opportunities in your career to be home with a child? On the flip side, did you ever worry about missing moments with your kid because of your career? How do you balance this? Do you feel like it's a sacrifice in some ways?

There is definitely a sacrifice on both ends. We work long days in this industry. On a typical week day I leave the house a little before 9a and I get back anywhere between 8 and 9p. He's in bed by the time I get home, so we get just a little time in the mornings. Sometimes I'll work a Saturday as well or have a side project at home I have to work on on the weekend. Those hurt the most and I'm trying to be a lot more selective about the projects I take along those lines, and leave the weekends as sacrosanct. FaceTime is nice, we at least get to see each other at bedtime for a few minutes.

The sacrifices on the work end--well I'd like to get into features and/or scripted and its been suggested that a good way to do that is to take a step back to AE to get into a cutting room and work my way back up. It's not easy to do that because the number of hours I work would go up and the amount of pay would go down, not good for a one income family financially, and more importantly there would be even less time with the boy.

What ends up getting sacrificed is time for myself. I'm either working, or spending time with Nancy and Riley. I barely pick up my guitar anymore much less write, record or perform and that used to be (really still is I guess) such a huge part of my identity. Nancy and I also don't go out nearly as much as we used to, our social life is basically toddler birthday parties on Saturday afternoons. I'm exaggerating a bit of course, and that type of thing isn't unique to a tv & film career.

When you're in the middle of a big project with long hours, how does it affect your family life? How do you alter things to make your family life manageable in these situations?

I'm always in the middle of a big project with long hours. Since we only have the one income I can't afford to take 4-6 weeks off between shows like a lot of editors do here in town. It is tough though when I have a side project that takes those precious vegging out hours between 9p-11p and turns them into more time in front of the Avid and at the same time devours the weekend. I'm working hard, Nancy doesn't get a break and Riley definitely notices when Daddy's not around much. He's only three but he understands two days off in a row and gets excited about them. Basically we try to stick to that morning schedule as much as possible, it's all about Riley-and I just deal with burning eyeballs when the work hours are long. I usually take him running with me in the mornings, then we play cars or PlayStation or just generally goof around.

Video and film professionals often work independently running a business or as freelancers. How did this play into your family plans? How do you deal with things like having funds for kids' activities, having health care insurance or funds for childbirth and kids, or generally just running a household without necessarily having a traditional full time job with benefits?

That is certainly a trick and the hardest part of being freelance. Before we had Riley and when Nancy was working we were covered under her policy. A lot of people I know do that, but that is not an option for us. The individual insurance market is broken. Coverage is prohibitively expensive, and the deductibles and co-pays are crazy high. I'm a Member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild and that is an awesome solution to the healthcare, vacation & retirement issue. The trick is consistently finding work that is union eligible. You basically need to work 16 (50-hr) weeks on a union show per year to keep your benefits. Scripted shows are traditionally union, but unscripted is traditionally not. There are a few but they're desirable and that much harder to get on. There is a growing number of editors that are working hard to convince more reality producers that it's important and valuable to use union editors, but it's slow going and hasn't quite reached the tipping point yet.

How do you deal with childcare and unexpected challenges that come up when raising kids (i.e. sickness) while also balancing often time-sensitive tasks such as editing a show?

Financially, you just have to budget and be disciplined about saving for unexpected expenses. As far as dealing with a sick kid and other challenges that come along with raising kids; plain and simply I could not do this if it weren't for my amazing wife Nancy. She works as many hours as I do raising the boy and running the house and as we both sink into the couch to watch a few minutes of tv each night it's unclear who's worked harder that day.

When working from home, how do you manage your time with your son around?

This has proven an impossible task for me. I used to work from a home office, but after we had Riley I rented an office. Now that we're in California and I don't have an office (home or otherwise) I work during nap time or at night after he's asleep. Occasionally when I really have to dig in at home and get something done during the day Nancy and he will go out for a few hours. Luckily though, since there is more consistent work out here, I don't have to work at home very much so it's ultimately not much of an issue.



Some in the industry use the phrase "golden handcuffs" to refer to having to pass on or not seek further opportunities that involve more risk but may also progress your career further because of the responsibility of having a family. Do you feel like you're in a "golden handcuffs" situation? What's your opinion on this outlook?

I understand the situation, and to a degree, yeah I'm in what some would describe as a golden handcuffs situation but I'm not going to let that be an excuse to not progress. I hear people lay out how a career path in features or scripted is supposed to go and the implication is that it's an insurmountable task. I disagree. I might not be doing it the "traditional way" (which I think is a myth anyway). But I feel like there's a way, and I'll figure it out.

What other challenges do you have with balancing a film career with a child?

Like many other careers, networking is what really gets you ahead. In LA, there are 'mixers' or creative user group meetings constantly. You can probably find something to do every night of the week. So, that's just more time away from home outside of the job. Very important to do, and they're mostly enjoyable, and/or educational and necessary. But it does take more time away from home.

Does Riley understand if you're not around or busy for periods at a time? What do you hope he learns from seeing your work?

He definitely understands when I'm not around. I hope he learns to set goals and work hard to achieve them. I also hope he learns that ultimately I love what I do for a living and that is an important thing to consider when choosing a career as how much you'll make.

Despite the challenges of parenthood, what are the positives to having kids? What makes it worthwhile?

The positives to having kids are the actual kids themselves. This little human that looks like you that you get to teach and shape and learn from and laugh with and hopefully get to visit when you're old and retired.

What is your advice to someone in the industry who is considering having children, but is worried about being able to have a career and a family?

Your parents did it, your grandparents did it, your great grandparents did it. People all around you are doing it and have for countless generations. It's as simple as making a choice and then figuring out how to make it work. I will say though that I simply could not do this without my amazing wife and partner Nancy. She makes this whole endeavor possible by doing everything that she does to make sure that our home lives and Riley's life goes as smoothly as possible. She was also an integral part of the decision and drive to move and therefore continue to chase a career in this crazy/awesome industry. So, my one piece of advice is to pick a partner who shares the same vision as you when it comes to work/life balance.

~

As someone who has (relatively) recently entered the Indianapolis post-production market, it's inspirational to me to hear Tim's perspective on family. His bold cross-country move and subsequent success just goes to show that with the correct outlook, the right partner, and a combination of talent and hard work, you can accomplish many goals that superficially might seem to conflict with each other.

Tim's recent credits include Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman for Discovery Science, Best Parks Ever for The Travel Channel, American Ninja Warrior for NBC, and Face Off for SyFy. He's currently cutting a competition reality show called Hot Set, which you can catch on SyFy on Tuesdays at 9PM ET. Tim can be found on Twitter at @twilsbach.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 27, 2012 at 3:36:00 pm post-production, parenthood

Musings on Assaulting Overweight Women - My First Feature (The Impersonators)

This is an on-going post-production diary I'm keeping while I cut my first feature film, The Impersonators, an indie comedy.

To my delight, this year has been filled with many opportunities to get advice and tips on editing from some of the top editors in the world. Between NAB, Editfest, and the weekly Twitter chat #postchat, I've been up to my ears in wisdom on cutting film and television.

Of course, in central Indiana I'm pretty well saturated in corporate video work, so I was getting all these amazing pieces of advice thinking "Well, I guess I'll write it down so maybe someday when I edit a film, it might be useful."

Well crap, here I am.

And when I last left off, I was embracing the idea of failing and learning along the way, all the while wondering if Avid would even cooperate with me. I'm happy to report that once I figured out how to get my footage into Media Composer, it's been pretty smooth since then. I was a little shaky at first, re-acclimating to Avid. I've used FCP7 all day (most days) for the better part of the last 4 years, and I've not had my hands on an Avid for more than some small things. I spent an hour reviewing Class on Demand's Avid for FCP Users to re-adjust my thinking, and then I was doing fine.



My rough cut is at about 25 minutes run time right now and I've hit no major issues in the edit. Everything is organized. It's a nice little sanctuary. I've had a few fairly complex scenes already, but my mellow has not been harshed yet thanks to some thoughtful words from the elder editors among us.

Sage Advice #1: "@kyl33t Cut talky scenes first with camera on each person talking so that everyone gets their say. Then go through and overlap etc #postchat" - John Lee (@godbolt), via #postchat September 5, 2012

One of the most complex scenes I've ever cut happened last weekend. It takes place in a conference room and consists of 10 different characters having a fast-paced discussion. There were a lot of takes, 6 or 7 different setups, and some other challenges that I won't get into just yet. I needed to find and accentuate the best performances, find the best reactions, and figure out the rhythm of a scene with so many people who were just sitting around talking.

A few weeks ago, #postchat's special guest was John Lee, who was involved with the editorial of amazing films such as The Matrix, The Prestige, and Inception. John was kind enough to answer our many questions for the hour, and he told me to give every character their say, then worry about overlapping and everything else. Simple, but I've not cut a lot of dialogue before. When I cut shorts in the past I kind of did this but tended to jump into the refinement, which wasn't that big of a deal since it was short. A long scene? Many scenes? That could be difficult.



So I decided to make an effort to take a segmented approach: get it in the timeline, then find the pacing and overlapping and trims, add it reactions, etc. A little at a time.

Since I had already sorted everything and marked my favorite takes, I was just pulling from what I knew was the best. And then I had the scene cut far earlier than I expected. Does it still need work? Hell yes. Is it going to change drastically? Yep. But was I uncharacteristically happy with a rough cut? Yes I was.

This advice is so simple, yet so helpful. Especially to someone who cuts mostly unscripted and works in a much different way trying to assemble pieces. Narrative is a whole different thing. I love it.

Sage Advice #2: "Always be solving! Black holes in a time-line need to be solved. Leaving them unattended weakens your story. #cutting" - Steve Audette

At Post Production World at NAB, I spent some time in Steve Audette's documentary sessions. Much of my day job consists of editing things that aren't scripted, so it's been pretty damn helpful already. But even though I'm cutting a narrative piece and not a documentary, I've been keeping this in the back of my mind when I want to just leave a part to figure out later: don't leave black holes in your timeline.



I know as I continue the rough cut that I'm leaving areas where the cut is weak or needs more thought - that's just the nature of a rough. However, as I'm going through, I'm not leaving anything completely undone. I feel like if I leave problems until the end, they'll all gang up on me to frustrate me. But most of all, if something truly isn't working in the edit, it's a big early indication that something might not be working overall, and that seems like it will radiate down stream in the story.

By not leaving any big problems to solve later and at least offering a contingency for issues, I'm making sure that I have SOME solution to offer. Plus, I don't want to spring 5 different unsolvable problems upon the director after I finish my first pass.

(And this advice happens to be a tweet because I can't find a direct quote from the sessions, but it was basically the same idea.)

Sage Advice #3: "The first cut is like a fat woman falling down the stairs" - Jeffrey Ford ACE at Editfest NY, 2012

Ah yes, now the title of the blog post makes sense. Here's the biggest thing with the rough cut to me: it's going to suck. I mean, it might not be the worst thing ever (I hope it isn't). I was even pretty happy with the first cut of that scene I mentioned. But there are other scenes that pretty much just suck. And when I watch the first cut again later after picture lock, I'm going to think "holy crap, that sucked!"



The hardest part with a rough cut is knowing that it's a rough cut and not trying too hard to make it perfect on the first pass. It's going to make a better movie if you work through it and have a little patience with yourself (but not too much patience, we do have deadlines, hurry up, jeez!) The rough is rough, but it's assembled. When it's all together, you can see the story emerging, and the issues arising. It's such an important part of the process, but it's also one that can be frustrating as hell. I just want to see it perfect!

I think if you make peace with your rough early on, it'll be a happier cut because you won't be reflecting your frustration onto it. It will benefit from my knowledge of the scenes on either side of it - because those are often the scenes that determine if it works. I've tried hard to keep that in the back of my mind.

And sometimes the fat lady needs a light shove in the right direction, and I'm perfectly willing to do that.

(Jeffrey Ford is a super cool guy. One of the most chilled out editors I've ever met.)

BONUS: "HULK THANK NETWORK GUY FOR TODAYS WORDS OF WISDOM:COMEDY IS FUCKING HARD IN AN EDIT BAY. SAD BY GUY WHO SPENT 12 MINUTES IN EDIT BAY." - @AvidEditor_Hulk

I've cut comedy shorts before, and horror shorts and other types of shorts. Comedy is the most difficult to cut, I think. You can ruin a joke with a bad cut. You can save an iffy joke with a good cut. The timing of the editing becomes another voice in the film. Developing my sense of comedic timing as it pertains to this film has been interesting, and trying to get a handle for maintaining a humorous tone with a good pace during a much longer duration has been a great challenge so far.

So far, so good. I've benefited greatly from the advice of those around me and I'm grateful for a community of people who share things so eloquently.


And just for fun, I'll throw in the teaser again. Just because it's suddenly hit another wave of popularity and will surely be hitting 11,000 views today!






Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 20, 2012 at 5:14:16 pm independent film, post-production

The Track Matte Moment: A podcast about living and learning in post-production

Since we met up at NAB in April, Kes Akalaonu and I have been working on developing a podcast, which was unleashed upon the world this weekend. The Track Matte Moment is a podcast filled with an honest conversation about making mistakes, straight from editors and visual effects artists.

You can find episode 1 in which editor Joel Yeaton talks to us about the trials of jumping into a new NLE and dealing with DSLR footage on our tumblr page. We're still working out the kinks, so expect things to slowly improve in terms of quality and delivery methods.

What's a Track Matte Moment? It’s that moment when you realize your workflow sucks. That instance when you look at your comp and realize you went about it all wrong. The epiphany when you realize you should have said something different in a production meeting. A Track Matte Moment is that moment of post-project regret when it hits you that you could have done something faster, better, more efficiently, or with less stress.

The name comes from a tweet from Kes a few months ago, where he realized he could have completely enhanced his project if he had just used a track matte from the beginning. I thought it was an awesome concept to apply to all aspects of post, and here we are.


A Track Matte Moment isn’t necessarily a failure - yours could come as you complete a successful project and take a step back, look at it, and think to yourself “It would have been better if I had done this.” It’s all about growth in your craft.As we develop our first Moments, we’re welcoming feedback to help develop this series into one you want to listen to! We want to keep them short, fun, and reflective. Our hope is to have a library where people of all experience levels can listen to editors talk openly about issues or mistakes, so that they may be educated and entertained.

And guests get the opportunity to use The Track Matte Moment as a confessional, to atone for their post sins.

I hope you'll give us a listen, and perhaps volunteer to be a guest!


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 9, 2012 at 7:53:14 pm post-production, podcast

Embracing Failure - My First Feature (The Impersonators)

This is an on-going post-production diary I'm keeping while I cut my first feature, The Impersonators, an indie comedy.

Before the failure, a success: the first teaser trailer was released a couple days ago:



And now the rest.

As I moved through the motions of being my own assistant, I hit my first point of utter frustration. Not even a clip in the bin yet and hair was threatening to be pulled out. I wasn't exactly punching walls, but it was irritating me exponentially.

For the purpose of hopefully offering someone some insight on this, I'll remind you I'm working with Avid Media Composer 6.

Avid's error messages are scary, and I've seen a lot of them now. My issues seem to be well documented on forums but with no actual solutions, which is maddening. Some things work for people, but not for others. There's no consistency like with most issues I research. I'm documenting my experience for the next person that has to do this, so maybe they'll come to the understanding that it isn't something that is entirely THEIR fault, necessarily.

The production was shot on hacked Panasonic GH2 cameras. It's a pretty common thing to do these days. I have folders of AVCHD media arranged on my external drive (.mts files if you're newer to this or possibly looking for a solution to your own issues.) I've worked with AVCHD before so I knew of the potential pitfalls, but I've always been fine when using the Log and Transfer tool in FCP7. This was my first adventure into AVCHD in Avid Media Composer, so of course it has to be with clips that may not be entirely standard as far as codecs go.

Here's what happened. After the project was created, I'd link to the files via Avid Media Access (AMA) and they'd show up in my bin. My first issue occurred when simply trying to play them in the source window. They'd play for a second, then I'd get an error to the effect of "ASpringbuffer". Then it would stop responding and I'd have to force quit.

I tried again, going right to consolidate/transcode without trying to play back the files through AMA. I set up the transcode to DNxHD and let it go on a batch of maybe 10 files. The status bar would hang for a while, then beach ball of death, then an "upstream pipe" error.

At first, I figured it was because I was using a little USB 2 drive just to test out a couple clips while my new g-tech drive was being shipped. But this remained consistent after I was hooked up to the 7200rpm 2TB drive via eSata (maybe I should try this with Firewire 800 just to rule out eSata being weird?) At this point, forum posts I've seen mentioning this error have people speculating that it's either the hard drive unable to keep up with Avid writing files, or it's the GH2 hack affecting the audio side of things on the clips, making Avid unhappy. I tried changing some settings to make Avid happy with the audio and nothing changed. The most frustrating thing about this is that on the forum posts, sometimes these clips work totally fine for people. The original poster will share a clip, and subsequent repliers will be able to AMA and transcode it. Then the next person in the thread will get the same upstream pipe error. Then someone else will change a setting and it'll work, while the next person will change the same setting and it won't work. Nothing online has a definitive answer.

I sent a tiny clip to two trusted Avid editor friends to see what would happen on their system. Same thing. Asked a few more, including some helpful COW people. No clue.

So now I've pretty much narrowed it down to either being a software or a hardware issue. YES, I know, I'm so helpful.

My next thought was to say "eff it" to AMA and try to just import the clips and let Avid take a century to transcode them that way. So I tried that with ten files from another folder within the drive. At first, it seemed like it was working. Then after one clip, an upstream pipe error.

Well, ok then.

So at this point, I had no easy way to get these clips into MC. I knew they were fine because Premiere was importing and playing them back relatively fine, if a bit choppy at times though to be fair they are massive. I didn't really push Premiere to do anything beyond just importing, but I'll give it credit that it actually worked. I decided to see if FCP7's Log and Transfer tool would like them and opened that up. (As a side note, one or two of the card volumes wouldn't mount in there because the person wrangling the media was messing around with the card structure. One of my folders is JUST mts files without the metadata. What a pain. Camera people: DON'T DO THAT.) So I mounted a volume and transferred three clips, transcoding them to ProRes 422. It was fast and it took the files, and they looked good and played back great.

Then I had a moment where it was 1 AM and FCP7 was about to seduce me into cutting in there. It was just so familiar. "Come here, have a cuddle."

No, I really need the extra practice in Avid, and FCP will forsake me later for sure anyway. As I make OS updates, it gets worse and worse. Premiere is an option, but like I said, I'd rather go with Avid for my own sake. I took the ProRes clip that FCP made and transcoded it to DNxHD, and it fast imported into Avid. I briefly considered doing this for every clip - renaming them by scene and take right there. It wouldn't matter since I'm doing all the finishing within my Avid, more or less, no concerns about relinking or sharing. But among other reasons to not do this, it seemed like a LOT of extra time spent transcoding things twice. And a lot of messing around with disk space allocation.

I should throw in an aside here that it was after midnight and I posted my frustrations on Twitter and instantly had four people giving me their opinions or advice, or at least trying to troubleshoot. That's awesome. I love you all.

Anyway, my next move was to obtain Clip Wrap and try that out. I used it to transcode a file to DNxHD. It worked and fast imported into Avid as expected, played back great. Yipee. The only issue is I have 12 folders of media that I need to transcode, and they don't have unique filenames (meaning, in Card 1 there's a 001.mts, and Card 2 there's a 001.mts) so if I loaded all of these into Clip Wrap, I figured there'd be some funkiness where it's re-writing, overwriting, or just crashing when it hits those files. There's no way to batch them and I wanted to let it run overnight. And I didn't want to rename the source files.

So instead of transcoding in Clip Wrap, I simply re-wrapped a couple of folders worth of files since that takes just a couple minutes. Out of curiosity, I tried to AMA link to those files (which didn't work). Figures. So I opened up Mpeg Streamclip and set up a batch list to transcode 2 folders of files. In the batch list, you can have files being sent to different places, unlike in Clip Wrap where everything has the same destination folder. Plus I pretty much trust Mpeg Streamclip with my life anyway, so it seemed like a safe bet to let it run overnight without error.

The transcode takes for-freaking-ever as you'd expect with all this media, but it worked. I then took those and am currently fast importing into Avid, which also takes for-freaking-ever but not in the same way. They should totally not call that fast import because it makes me expect it to be faster. Maybe "easy import"? "Slow and steady import?" Anyway, they are all importing correctly, mxf files being created, everything plays back fine and looks good. The transcoding and fast importing time so far has exceeded 20 hours. It'll probably wind up closer to 30. I absolutely see why people are taking Premiere more seriously. That's a lot of downtime for your system JUST to get the media in the NLE. But I'm assuming I'll make back this time later in by not having to troubleshoot Premiere. If this was something I needed to turn around fast, I would have to use Premiere, no doubt. I also see the benefit of something like the KiPro, recording natively on set.

But ya know, if anything else goes wrong with this, I'll have to bail and go to FCP7. I'm willing to troubleshoot Avid for a while - that's a part of the learning experience. But when it gets past a certain point, it's time wasted.

So for my workflow, this will work. But what if I needed to have an edit that can be relinked and moved and shared among facilities? What would be the solution? I'm not really sure, and I'd love to know. I really think it has to do with the codec not being perfectly standard. There's just one little thing in there that's making Avid sour. At first, I thought it was a disk speed issue. Maybe it's a combination. But really, I think it's the fact the files are just a little different. Regardless, this has been really educational already. And I have the feeling my permanent tension headache will subside soon, as I tried editing a few clips into the timeline as a test and everything suddenly was familiar again.

Another side note. The teaser trailer I posted in this blog was cut in FCP7. I knew exactly what scenes and takes I needed, so I was able to go into Log and Transfer and quickly grab my handful of media and go to work. While editing this teaser, Log and Transfer actually crashed FCP 28 times over not that many hours worth of editing. So Log and Transfer really doesn't like these clips either. Even if I were in FCP7 I'd still have hours of transcoding via Mpeg Streamclip, just to ProRes. But no importing into FCP. However, much less robust media management.

When I was getting ready to start this project, I asked around for advice and tips on setting things up or exploring the depths of Avid. One editor friend gave me the best insight so far. Paraphrased: Embrace failure, because every time you screw up now is a time you won't screw up in the future.

Anyway, now that I've got that sorted out, I can finally start to sync and cut. More opportunities for failure lie in my reach!


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 6, 2012 at 9:17:42 amComments (8) independent film, avid

How to Change the Color of Multiple Text Clips in Final Cut Pro 7

I'm currently working on a training video with a lot of text clips in the FCP7 sequence and I needed to change the color of all of them. After a quick Google search to make sure there wasn't some elegant and quick way to do this since you can't copy and paste text color attributes in FCP7 (at least with FCP7's text, I didn't test the others like Boris because I didn't use them), I figured I'd write up a quick guide in case anyone is looking. This is pretty simple once you know what you're looking for, but it can be intimidating because you have to use XML.

First, open the sequence with the text you need to replace. Then, go up to file, export, and XML. Save this file somewhere.





Now, open the XML file in a text editor like TextWrangler. I think TextEdit has gone to hell with Lion, but if you edit in there make sure it's not in rich text mode.



Now you'll need to find an instance of the old text color. I colored the first clip with the new color before the XML export so I'd be able to get the RGB values from that instead of looking them up in Photoshop or wherever. If you know the RGB values, you don't really need to do that.

Look for something like this within a text element - fontcolor, specifically is the parameter.



Copy and paste it that little bit into another editor window. Then go to the next instance of this code, which should be the second clip and your old color. Copy and paste that too. So you'll have code with the new color, and with the old color. You only really need this little bit with the RGB/Alpha values, to keep it simple.



Now, go to find and replace.

In the "find" field, paste the code for the old color.

in the "replace" field, paste the code for the new color.



Now hit replace or replace all.



Now save the XML file. Make sure it saves as a .xml file.

Go back to FCP7 and rename your sequence - maybe add "-old color" or something to distinguish from the new sequence.

Now to go Import > XML and go through the dialog box. A new sequence that's named the same as your previous one is in your bin.



Open it up and it should be exactly the same as before, but with the text changed. TA DA.

Note that this only works to pretty much change all of one color to all of a different color. If you only need part of the sequence changed, you'll have to make a judgement call as to if this will save you any time. Or copy/paste portions into a new sequence and use that, then paste it back?

You can do a lot of other things with this simple find/replace of code, like changing the font color en masse or something like that.

So there you go. That's one way to change all the text color in FCP7. It might be the only way, I'm not 100% sure.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 4, 2012 at 9:29:59 am final cut pro 7, change text color

Learning to Walk Again - My First Feature (The Impersonators)

Post officially began the day before the production wrapped, which also means my sleep schedule has officially switched from iffy to erratic. Perhaps the toughest thing about having a creative side project for me is that I tend to work best on these things very late at night. That doesn't really mesh well with a day job you have to get up in the 5AM hour, but sleep is for the weak. That being said, prying yourself away so that everything else in life doesn't suffer is easier said that done.



As I said in the first post, I chose Avid MC6 to cut this for a number of reasons, one of which is so that I can gain the same level of fluency I have in FCP7. Honestly, it's irritating when people tell me that Avid and FCP are "basically the same." That's just not true. Sure, editing is editing, but when you can't remember which button to hit to make the thingy move to the other thingy, there's nothing more frustrating. Creative flow is killed. Not to mention the way Avid handles media is a lot different. It's just a different mindset from start to finish, and you have to be careful or you could really mess things up.

Earlier this year, I started experimenting with remapping my FCP7 keyboard to include more Avid-y shortcuts (and some additional rearrangements I picked up from Scott Simmons). I had a hard time at first. When I got certified in FCP6, I had to memorize the default shortcuts, and those became the shortcuts I used on a daily basis. For better or for worse, I have a crazy muscle memory for these shortcuts. But I like working the "Avid way", so I switched my keyboard configuration.

I failed at this hard. It was too much. I switched back to my happy FCP7 defaults within hours.

I shared my failure with my friend and fellow editor Meaghan over brunch after Editfest. Among a plethora of great advice about a number of things, she suggested changing only a few keys each week to transition to a more effective layout.

Duh. It seems so simple. So I did just that. And guess what? It worked. I realized this last week when I opened up Premiere CS6. I don't use Premiere a whole lot, but I set it to the FCP7 default keyboard earlier this year when I upgraded from CS4. I was crippled! Success!

So basically, I've got mostly Avid shortcuts in FCP7, mostly FCP7 shortcuts in Premiere, and uh…Avid shortcuts in Avid with a few FCP7 holdovers. This is all very strange, and you better believe I carry every configuration with me or have it stored in my Dropbox for when I use another editing system. At this point I could probably adapt from one default to another pretty easily (except Premiere's original configuration which is weird) but it just bugs me when I can't work at maximum speed.

After nearly 4 years of using FCP7 on a daily basis for my full-time job, it's been hard to break my habits. Like learning to walk again. It's frustrating because you know you can and you've done it all before, you just need time and persistence and practice to get back up to speed. It's a long process of learning to walk again.

Anyway, keyboard shortcuts aside, I'm still acclimating back to the Avid way of life. I've been here before, but not on this scale. I've been learning boatloads about DNxHD, trying to sift through piles upon piles of opinions on the best way to handle media. I've been watching every each take and cross-referencing the script supervisor notes to skip over useless ones. The notes have been so accurate that my review has been super fast. In my notebook, I've been making notes on usable takes - which ones made me laugh, if there are reactions within shots that might be usable in other contexts, things like that. This week, I'll finish up with the assistant editor tasks and dig into a teaser trailer for the film. I'm getting really really excited about cutting this film. There are so many opportunities to apply what I've learned from top editors over the last year. The film was DP'd by David Brewer, and it looks amazing. There are some great comedic performances that are about to emerge. I can't wait to start putting scenes together. My day job edits have been piling on more than ever, so I've been spending more hours in my day staring at an NLE than anything else. Figures, feast or famine.

One thing I did outside of organization within the software is a notecard storyboard. I'm a really visual person (obviously) and I've always heard of editors doing this so I figured I'd give it a try. I was already referring to it before I'd finished with the dailies. It's definitely going to be a really helpful tool. Because I'm also a list-checker-offer, I plan on sticking a colored post-it on each scene when I finish cutting it, among other color coding. I love color coding. It will be motivational.



Now that I've talked all this about Avid, people that follow me on Twitter will know that I've been having massive issues getting this footage into the Avid at all. I believe I have a workaround - a crappy, long-winded one, but still - but I'll save that whole debacle for the next blog so I don't jinx myself.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 2, 2012 at 9:22:22 amComments (2) avid, independent film

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