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Wednesday, 13 November 2013 06:53

Editing in the 21st Century

Written by  Gordon Meyer
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EditingChris Ross Leong is known for his work as an editor on reality TV shows like “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” and as the current staff editor on the Fox syndicated series “Dish Nation.” His creative career began in the U.K., where he worked as a fashion photographer in 1975 before moving into film and television production, and for the past three decades he has been editing TV shows and independent features.

Like other editors of his generation, Leong first used the “old school” editing technique of physically cutting celluloid work prints (or “sprockets”) and watching the footage on a Moviola or Steenbeck flatbed console. Today, Leong works on an Avid, but when editing indie films or his own projects, he enjoys using the Avid with Apple Final Cut and Lightworks software at home. He’s also passionate about the emergence of 4K and Ultra HD technologies used theatrically and at home, and how a resolution that’s four times higher than the DCP and consumer high-definition standards affects the postproduction process. “I was looking at an Ultra HD display at a retail store,” Leong recalls. “It was playing a science-fiction movie that looked horrible in terms of the grading of it. It was obviously graded for 2K and not for 4K. You could also tell by looking what shots originated on what cameras and how much processing was done for those shots. It looked like a patchwork quilt. That’s because these days, especially in the commercial field, shots go out to 50 people and you get mismatched footage. On a 4K screen, everything is revealed in all its glory and any mismatch shows up like crazy.”

Filmmakers have been challenged by the great amount of detail captured by HD cameras, but Leong says that having consistent-looking footage has become a bigger challenge in the 4K world. “You can’t change the gain anymore because the screen catches all of that,” he explains. “When you try to up the gamma, you can see the difference.” And that higher display resolution makes it increasingly difficult to match shots from multiple sources. For Leong, it’s also important to factor in whether the project he’s cutting is intended for theaters or small screens. “When I’m cutting features, the first thing I do is watch the footage on a big screen just to make sure that the close-up I’m about to cut to is, in fact, close up and sharp,” he says, adding that, because of the relatively small screen size, it’s hard to tell how sharp a shot really is when he’s working on an Avid, especially when compared to seeing it projected. This was a practice he began when cutting film on a flatbed. “On a KEM, the screen would slip back and the image could be projected onto this big 12-foot screen,” Leong explains. “So now I do the same thing. I have an HD projector going up on a wall just to remind me that that’s what I’m cutting for, not this little thing on the computer.”

While Leong primarily edits with television in mind, independent filmmakers like Orestes Matacena bank on the advanced capabilities of Adobe Premiere 6 software to make features look and sound like they cost several times their actual budget. Matacena is best known as the character actor who played the gangster Niko in the blockbuster film The Mask, but he has a passion for making indie films like his political thriller Two de Force, which he wrote, directed, edited and co-produced with Orna Rachovitsky.

Matacena has been making movies since the late 1970s, but it wasn’t until his 1999 feature Cuba Libre that he could add “editor” to his résumé. Like many other filmmakers, Matacena says that movies are really made in the editing bay because that’s where editors can shape an actor’s performance. He first started editing with an early version of Adobe Premiere for his first NLE system and he’s been using it ever since, with the Windows version of Premiere from Creative Suite 6 as his current tool. While he has experimented with Final Cut Pro on one project, he returned to Premiere because it offers the ability for him to instantly see his editorial changes. “I recently went to see a friend of mine who directed me as an actor in a film,” says Matacena. “He was showing me a scene I was in, and [he was] using Final Cut [so] I had to wait for the rendering.”

Another key reason that Matacena uses Premiere Pro is because of the way it so easily integrates with other modules of Adobe’s Creative Suite, especially After editing2Effects and Photoshop. As an independent filmmaker, Matacena usually works with budgets that are a fraction of what studio projects cost, so the post work like visual effects that are normally farmed out to specialists is often done in-house. And Matacena says that it’s a tremendous time saver to integrate After Effects with Premiere because it allows him to quickly insert and change VFX shots on the fly: “It’s faster and more creative because you don’t have to wait as long to render.”

Whenever Matacena begins a new project, Rachovitsky custom builds a new Windows-based editing system with upgraded specs. Their current platform uses an ASUS Rampage IV Extreme motherboard with a 1200-watt power supply, Intel i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and an EVGA graphics board powered by an NVIDIA GeForce 580 GPU. To optimize performance, Rachovitsky only stores the operating system and applications like Creative Suite 6 on the computer’s internal hard drive, being careful to use no more than half the drive’s capacity. Data and footage are all stored and accessed from external drives from LaCie, which the filmmakers say delivers exceptional reliability. Each time Rachovitsky builds a new editing platform, she reverse engineers the system based on the demands of Adobe’s software, such as the hardware components Adobe recommends, because through trial and error she found out that some graphic boards work better with Creative Suite 6 than others. Combining that graphics horsepower with features within Premiere enable Matacena to do his own color correcting in-house.

Matacena believes that the reasonable costs for today’s digital technologies can make production affordable for any filmmaker. “There is no excuse to not make a movie now,” he says. In fact, Matacena is about to begin a crowd-funding campaign for his latest project Swastika, which is inspired by stories of a Jewish resistance against Nazis in a Warsaw ghetto during World War II.

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