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🎬 Editorial Organization

Organization is a tough topic because the specifics depend so much on scale. We’ll start at the high end and move downward; hopefully this top-down approach will give you some ideas on how you can organize your project editorially, whatever the scale you’re working at.

The first problem is, you’ll end up with a lot of material, especially if you’re shooting anything feature-length. It’s imperative to come up with an organizational method that you test and that you’ll stick to. Let’s put this into context via some of the more logistically nightmarish films of our time; take a look at some Marvel stats, (this clip from the editor of X-men is similarly good), but here’s a look at Infinity Way and Endgame:

High End TV

Big TV shows similarly require not just one, but many assistant editors, though teams are usually significantly smaller than on big feature films. Comparing stats for kicks, Westworld transcodes proxies to Dnx36 and still filled 21 Terabytes of server space. That’s a lot of footage at 36Mbps. Timing can be dramatically different, depending on the distributor and distribution schedule of the show. Episodic content is staggered to meet air dates so you’ll see the edit start almost immediately after the content is shot. Oftentimes the size of a feature allows for more flexibility in terms of, for example, taking a sick day during post production. TV often shoots with many (too many) cameras simultaneously, so the job of sync is considerable.

Josh Beal talks about editing big TV and we get a look at assistant editor/editor collaboration. There’s a bit of language here, but this video is equally insightful.

There is often a high degree of technical ability expected from an assistant editor. A seasoned editor may even trust an assistant enough to let them begin a rough assembly edit of a scene. In this case, the job requires both a technical ability and creativity.

Assistant Editing Tasks

On shows of this size, much of this editorial organization work falls to the assistant editor(s), which you’ll frequently see abbreviated as “AE”. In a nutshell, the AE’s primary job is organizing and prepping footage for the editor and having the technical savvy to troubleshoot and fill in workflow gaps. Here’s a brief list of responsibilities in order:

  1. An AE typically doesn’t start on as early as editor. They usually have little-to-no involvement in pre-viz, more typically starting around a week before production. Just for context, here’s a high-level look at the editorial schedule: Modern films edit during production. The film’s production wraps, editors have 2 weeks working solo for a rough cut/editor’s cut; then the director has 10-weeks (DGA determined time) to work on the cut with them. Around this time music editing and sound department pitch in. For post, a Blockbuster takes 10 months minimum (Google Fast & Furious) up to 2 years if there’s tons of animation.
  2. They’ll get reports from camera and script departments as production gets underway. They make sure all footage is accounted for first of all, making sure everything listed on the reports is present on the media server. If a script report mentions seven takes for shot 13C then you need to make sure all seven are accounted for.
  3. Ingest and associate vital metadata that will help with clip access and organization; Add new metadata (log); Organize into bins (oftentimes there will be timecode and take name burn-ins as a visual verification). Programs like ScriptSync/Scripter for Avid can associate the lined script with proper clips, making it easy to access a give clip right off the screenplay.
  4. Receive or create transcodes from original camera footage. Pretty well every AE calls these β€˜transcodes’/β€˜proxies’ β€œdailies”. I mentioned the term is ambiguous. Referring back to Marvel, before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, they proxied with DNX36 (pretty common for TV as well) but for everything after that, Marvel moved on to DNX 115. Historically dedicated post houses have done these proxies but anymore you have to have a big production for that. As far as the dailies go, big shows use h.264 and a service like PIX. Dailies are more often seen at the end of the day now, rather than the next day.
  5. Sync picture and sound. This is one area where the vital bit of metadata called timecode becomes very useful.
  6. Group Clips. This is Avid’s term for a multi-cam clip so you’ll hear AE’s term it this way. You’re basically just making simultaneous shots easy to pick from by representing them as one clip in the timeline. In the bin, many editors like to see the various angles available side-by-side with the single group clip underneath.
  7. Prep for Editor (per editor’s preference). Most editors like multicam stuff grouped, but have varying opinions on how easily they can still access the original shots. Some editors will ask for screenplay order in the bins vs. shooting order. Some editors like to divide selects for larger scenes into a 3-act structure of beginning, middle and end.
  8. At this point the edit can begin happening via the principal editor(s).
  9. Temp VFX and temp sound can also be fun parts of Assistant Editing. Editors get tired of sound guys, who usually have little time compared to the editors, replacing their carefully crafted temp sound effects with perceivably subpar solutions. There’s less “temp-love” if it’s coming from an AE. As an AE, enjoy adding temp VFX/sound, knowing that all of your work will ultimately be replaced. It’s nice to be handy with After Effects, Fusion, or Nuke. I hear frequently of editors doing AniMattes, SpecterKeys and 3DWarps in Avid. Some high end editors are getting good at merging performances from separate takes. Again, these are usually temp VFX that outside vendors will do ‘properly’, but if you want an edge in the editing market these skills are useful.
  10. Export to Color (conform). This has it’s own section, but basically you get the ‘offline’ proxies matched up to the camera originals (verified with a VAM or “video assembled master”) so color work can begin on the high quality media.
  11. Export to Sound (sometimes conform though often the sound guys do this)
  12. Export to VFX
  13. A modern production does post simultaneously. The AE will constantly bring stuff from Color, Sound and VFX back in and prep it for the editor. With things in place (especially VFX), the pacing of the cut will likely need to change.

But the definition of an AE is changing quickly. The effects of technological advances and shrinking budgets generally mean fewer people are wearing more hats in post production. If assistant editing is your dream, a multi-faceted skillset will greatly increase your chances of success. This post from Reddit is very revealing:

An AE’s job is much more complex when a project shoots on film. It takes longer to get β€˜dailies’ and it’s more likely any given camera could have a mag rollout or a jam. Most people in post don’t love the decision to shoot on film. Currently, most projects shooting film scan the negative at 2K. Most films in 2020 are still finished at 2K.

East of Hollywood

But there’s a lot of work out there outside of Hollywood-level movies and TV. AE work is sort of divided between β€œScripted” and β€œUnscripted”. Unscripted work, like documentaries and reality TV, generally benefits a lot from an assistant editors help. These jobs are easier to come by if you’re looking to “break in”.

They type of work you’ll do on reality shows is surprisingly similar to what you’ll have done in your home movies. Poorly exposed, low bitrate GoPro footage, for example, is a staple of the reality world. Much of an assistant editor’s job is making sense of a variety of camera formats so the editor doesn’t have to. This may include the following:

  • Sound sync
  • Timecode verification or addition (many consumer cameras have no timecode)
  • Reel name verification or addition (some cameras don’t assign reel names and this metadata can be crucial to conforming in some workflows)
  • Transcoding (these files are converted from a consumer, file-size-friendly codec, into something that plays well in editing)
  • Misc. (consumer cameras can have all sorts of anomalies that an AE may tackle. Technical things like data vs legal level mismatches, frame rate or color space oddities, and sometimes even visual things like heavy distortion could be corrected by an assistant.

Good Resources

Books for those interested:

https://www.routledge.com/products/9781138691339

Good AE site:

http://willblanksblog.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-starter-guide-to-becoming-assistant.html#4

Project Folder Structure

We’ve covered some folder structure best practices for on-set. Now let’s turn to a post structure that will accommodate a variety of asset organization. This is a difficult thing to teach, because it’s going to vary widely depending on the scale of the project you’re involved in and the preferences of the post supervisor. I like to teach a system that takes the best practices from the pro world and incorporates them into something you can use on the smallest of projects.

First, for the main directory, I prefer starting directory names with the date in YearMonthDay format (e.g. 20200314 for March 14, 2020) as it makes alphabetical organization simple. Sort by name and everything flows chronologically. Feel free to add hyphens to improve legibility if you find it necessary (I.e. 2020-03-14), but you’ll get used to them not being there.

Inside that folder, contents can vary, but here’s a good, general-purpose folder structure for a project that you’ll handle on your own, but that’s also navigable in a professional post production environment:

There are many folders which will be added to this basic outline, but it’s a good starting place and it’s logical enough that, even after archival, the project can be understood. I often like to add a “MM” folder for media managed ‘trims’ if I’m not archiving an entire project’s media. I use uppercase for my default structure simply because it’s easy to see what folders I add to it, but it’s not essential. If working in a collaborative environment, sometimes it’s nice to set up “To” and “From” folders for passing a project between artists. Most of these folder names should makes sense, but here are a couple clarifications:

Deliverables

This directory should hold only the final files delivered to client or broadcaster. The “Master” folder holds the highest quality “original”.

Renders

“Renders” means exported video that is not generated during production and is only a portion of a final product. I’ll use this folder for VFX renders, color renders, time-lapse renders, etc.

Archive

This folder exists so you don’t have to delete anything, but you have a place to put it when you *think* you no longer need it. It’s basically a recycle bin.

Video

BTS is a place to put behind-the-scenes material if you have someone doing EPK. PRODUCTION is a way to stipulate media created during production. Inside, all the transcodes from production can live by date, straight from the DIT production drive, and on a smaller project, camera originals can live there as well. If you’re thinking that the “Video” folder may seem far too general an organization scheme to edit from, that’s because your footage is much better sorted for editing in the NLE than in a file browser; we’ll get to that shortly. You could have additional folders inside “Video” for other sources of video, like stock assets.

Posthaste

Posthaste is a piece of software that can speed up your workflow by generating these folders with the push of a button. If it’s just the folder structure you’re after, this sort of thing is easy to script and can save you a lot of time. Applications with an open API will also really let you customize your workflow if you’re ambitious.

Watchtower

This is a cool application that gets your bin into the NLE (if you’re using Adobe) and keeps the hard drive folders and the imported bins in sync.

NLE Bin Structure

The above-mentioned structure actually works fairly well in an NLE as well, but, as mentioned, the video organizational side will potentially be much more intense. Keeping the directory structures parallel is a great organizational tactic if you’re disciplined enough to stay on top of it. Whatever you do, here are some standard bins an assistant editor will create.

  • A “Current” bin for the current cut.
  • A bin holding dailies organized by shooting day (production order)
  • A bin holding dailies organized by scene (script order)
  • A “turnover” bin for incoming/outgoing sequences
  • Some way of marking “selects”, a term to describe the best bits

Assistants set up bins and metadata, specifically syncing audio, adding scene and take info based on production’s reports and script, and assemble multi-cam sequences. Every production will be different and every editor will have different preferences. A common method is based on scene/take organizational structure since scenes are the building blocks of the narrative and you have a script as your outline (in scripted material). Check with editorial post supervisor. Do they want reel names assigned? ReelID comes with R3D and Arri files but not often with consumer formats, and it can really complicate the conforming process later on.

Features can be edited in a variety of ways. I’ve seen editors cut an entire feature-length project in a single timeline. It’s more common, however, to use the historical standard of “reels” to break up the edit. A standard feature-length projects typically has 5 to 6 “reels”. This means you might have each of those ‘reels’ as a separate AVID bin, each bin containing a sequence for that reel. AVID bins can be accessed by multiple users simultaneously, somewhat similar to Resolve’s collaborative projects. In Premiere, project files are opened on at a time, so it’s common to have each ‘reel’ as its own project as well as a master project to combine them all.

Here are key takeaways: Keep your timelines (AKA β€œsequences”) organized and duplicate them, incrementing version numbers or dates as you go. I like to use β€œv07” for versioning; others keep the current cut in a separate bin titled β€œcurrent” but I like the versioning method best as it gives you a historical order of the cuts. This level of minutia in naming may sound silly, but it makes it easy for someone else (or YOU down the road) to know you’re accessing the latest changes. Make sure it’s easy to find the latest cut.

NEVER LABEL ANYTHING AS β€œFINAL”. Instead, use version numbers.

The β€œarchive” idea can work in a bin as it does with the folder structure. On a feature, one timeline might represent a β€œreel’s” worth of time. On a reality show, a timeline may be one scene. Inside those timelines, some editors will use color coding to represent different beats within the story and have an easy visual of how lengths compare. On a smaller project, one timeline may represent the entire piece.

Oftentimes for unscripted work it’s easier to cut all the scenes down and figure out how they will interplay as you craft the narrative. In these cases, organizing via metadata is the most sane approach. In scripted work, scene bins can be auto-generated from metadata as well or manually populated. Having a dedicated folder for each scene can be invaluable on a feature film.

Selects

This is the term used to describe the good stuff that’s most likely to make final cut. It’s very helpful to establish a means of rating clips, so you can separate your β€œselects”, or best shots from the garbage. Some editors like having a ‘stringout’ of these selects to pick from. While these can be laid out in a timeline, again, utilizing metadata and smart bins is arguably the more modern approach.

Here’s a look at a feature film bin structure setup in an NLE:

Similar to how the file explorer structure sometimes uses “to” and “from” folders to see how, for example, color files might be delivered pre-color to the colorist and received post-color from the colorist, there are frequently bins in the NLE for the different hands the media will pass through. As you can see above, assistants will often have their own bins for sync, for example.

Subclips

Subclips are a very handy organizational tool. These are portions of a clip that exist as their own clips. Resolve, fortunately, allows you to change the in and out points of these clips after the fact if required. In and out points on the source media, then Alt+B to create the subclip, and right-click should you need to edit it later:

Markers

Duration markers are simply markers that define a range, rather than a point in time. Similar to subclips, these allow you to define portions within a clip that you want to work with later. They are easily searchable and modifiable as well.

Using a MAM

That said, sometimes it makes more sense to do this sort of logging outside of the editing package and in a Media Asset Manager.

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