Let’s do lunch
I spent an afternoon with a good friend, Michael Kaidbey, senior editor at Picture Shop, part of Streamland Media, located on the Sunset Gower Studios lot in the always-sunny Hollywood, CA.
I was greeted in the lobby by the very friendly head of hospitality, Tony Zudyk. After a few minutes of signing in, temperature checks, COVID safety surveys, hand sanitizing, and new-norm pleasantries, I was escorted up to the fourth floor and sent in the direction of Michael’s bay. The fourth floor lobby is decorated with artwork from over 100 years of cinematic history from both big and small screens.
I think it’s safe to assume that a majority of the modern titles in all of the artwork displayed touched an Avid product in one form or another. I could spend a lot of time roaming the halls and appreciating the posters and historical pictures, but I had a lunch date, and I was suddenly feeling hungry. I made my way to the edit bays.
You know, “Avid” is a four-letter word
I didn’t have any trouble finding Michael’s edit bay. And it’s not because I’ve been there before, but because I heard a few loud sighs as I rounded the corner, followed by a few choice four-letter words that I can’t repeat here. I think one of them was “Avid”.
I wasn’t sure if I should knock on the door or just turn around, call him from the lobby, and pretend I never heard a thing. But my opportunity passed—I hesitated too long. The decision was made for me. Michael flung open the door and saw me standing in the hallway pondering my next move. He looked at me, shouted “Robert! Perfect timing!”, gave me hug and pulled me into his edit bay.
Thank goodness you weren’t using Avid!
Michael pulled out a chair for me and asked me to sit down next to him. “You got a second? This will just take two minutes.” I’ve known Michael for over 15 years, and I know what “two minutes” really means—it means that we will miss the 3 p.m. last call for lunch at our favorite Thai food restaurant, but we will most likely be able to make the 5 p.m. reopening for dinner. Our stomachs would have to be patient for now. Michael wanted my opinion about an issue and I am always happy to talk tech with an editor—especially him.
Michael turned my attention to his monitors. They were blacked out, but with a wave of his wand—or rather a stylus across his tablet—he woke up his monitor and I sighed. “Robert, I’m done with this piece of $h!+!” There, in front of us, was something I have seen many times in my career: A very complex timeline and a variety of media offline and error messages. I noticed something else almost immediately: That sigh I let out earlier was a sigh of relief. It wasn’t Avid Media Composer, it was another multi-purpose finishing product.
“Can you believe this? I try very hard to make this work but I don’t know why I do it.” Michael was asked to work on another system to match what the editor used in offline for the first four episodes. I won’t disclose the software in order to protect the innocent, but if you are a loyal Media Composer editor, you will be able to fill in the blank with just about any other software that you’ve been asked to use.
This just isn’t professional software!
“I have been at this all morning and there’s a color session in an hour! This just isn’t professional software! The clip names are all shortened in the application and it just doesn’t want to relink to the camera files.” I asked Michael if there was anything I could do to help, either by calling a contact at the software company, or even the client. Michael turned and looked me dead in the eye with a very serious expression. He held his expression for a beat and then a smile wiped across his face from ear to ear while he asked, “Do you want to see something?” He then back-handed me on the chest, turned to face his workstation, and with a few keystrokes, switched the KVM system to another machine. “Look, just take a look.” Michael quickly scrubbed through what looked like a complete sequence without any media offline in Media Composer. “I exported an AAF and brought it into Avid. Let’s go to lunch. Giddy up!”
This scenario made perfect sense to me—I’ve lived it multiple times with Michael and other editors in his situation. No, Michael didn’t wave his stylus, say “Timelinus assembly-osus”, and magically conform the show. Being the professional that he is, Michael gave himself an insurance policy by using the tool he knew would accomplish the job. And by doing so, he made sure that his client would have a sequence ready to grade—and we wouldn’t miss lunch.
During lunch, Michael explained that he needed to make sure he had a show ready. He would continue trying to make the other software work, but if he couldn’t, the client wouldn’t be affected. He also shared that the editor was being forced to use this software, and they’d been losing a lot of time in the cutting room. The first four episodes were cut using this software before the editor gave them an ultimatum: They could either keep the software, or him.
Michael’s frustration is something I’ve heard multiple times in my post-production career. The argument about using one solution over another goes back to the film days, believe it or not. Granted, back then there were fewer options, but the arguments were all the same. It usually came down to a stronger familiarity level with a specific toolset and customer experience. Sometimes the decision was as simple as the availability of local support.
We can be creatures of habit. We also take great pride in what we do and see ourselves as an extension of the production editorial team. We spend many hours each week sitting in dark rooms doing our best to maintain the film editor’s creative intent. Once the picture is locked and turned over to the finishing editor, she or he accepts the responsibility of making sure the final product matches the reference as exactly as possible, while ensuring the edited master is technically sound and free of errors that can result in a failed QC pass. I haven’t met a single editor who was content with “close enough”. I have seen editors go back into a sequence on their own time to triple-check something long after the producers have signed off and sent it to color.
Other finishing tools can do exactly what Media Composer does
The evolution of workflows and metadata exchange has allowed us to gain efficiencies in every part of the process. Avid has always been ahead of the rest when it comes to collaboration. And it was also a leader in workflow interoperability. Thanks to strict industry-leading file management, AAF import and export, and every possible flavor of EDL, editors have the flexibility of keeping everything in the Avid family of products or moving part of the process, such as color, to another finishing product, like Black Magic Da Vinci Resolve, or Film Light’s Baselight.
So why don’t editors just take the AAF conform in Resolve and then hand-off to the colorist? I have a long and short answer for you. The short answer: They don’t want to. The long answer further elaborates on the short answer: Editors want to be able to collaborate with their clients in the most efficient way possible. And by using a solution that clients are already familiar with (from sitting in front of it for days, weeks, or even months), such as Media Composer, the editor provides their client with the confidence of knowing that anything the editor did back in the cutting room can be reproduced in the final edit. There is no compromise, no excuse, and no risk of wasting time in an already-compressed schedule.
“Other finishing tools can do exactly what Avid Media Composer does.” I’m not here to debate whether you can or can’t accomplish the same job with a different solution. If all you want to achieve at the end of the day is to generate a file and a list for color, or play with something new, then I agree with you 100 percent—you can absolutely do that with many different solutions. But if your goal is to seamlessly collaborate with the entire editorial team using a proven industry-standard solution, provide your client with cost saving efficiencies without cutting corners, and keep their stress levels low and confidence high, then there is only one solution that I know of that can check all of these boxes. I knew this fact before I joined the Avid family. And now, having seen the level of commitment to the industry from the inside, my belief has only strengthened.