Editing Non-scripted Projects: Music Video


Even though I’ve edited a lot of trailers and commercials, where music played an important part, I had never had an opportunity of working on an actual music video. Thanks to a fortunate coincidence, I was recently contacted by a young singer, Oktawia Kawęcka, who had just recorded a cover of the Oscar winning “Writing’s on the Wall” by Sam Smith (well, at that point in time it hadn’t won an Oscar yet), asking for an editor. It was extremely hard to resist the temptation. So I didn’t.

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PEV05 – Ben Gill on Performance Enhancing Visual Effects


Update: Ben has published a new tutorial that I added at the bottom of his interview.

This interview is part of the larger series about Performance Enhancing Visual Effects. Ben Gill is a filmmaker and designer, author of the split screen tutorial which I attached to the end of the first post about PEVs. Since he represents “the new blood” that comes to the craft of editing, I thought I would ask him a few questions as well. Enjoy.

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PEV03 – Zbigniew Stencel (Editor) About Performance Enhancing Visual Effects


This interview is part of the larger series about Performance Enhancing Visual EffectsZbigniew Stencel is a Polish film editor. He worked on recently released  No Panic, With A Hint of Histeria, and Czułość, which is going to arrive to the cinemas somewhere in the first quarter of 2016. Read on what he has to say about PEVs.

Please briefly introduce yourself.

My name is Zbigniew Stencel. I’m an editor based in Poland. I graduated from the Polish National Film, Television and Theatre School in Łódź (specialization in film editing), I have cut documentaries, music videos and ads. During recent years I focused on various 3D stereoscopic projects. Just now I edited two feature films.

How did you first learn about Performance Enhancing Visual Effects (PEVs)?

I guess Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall and Alan Edward Bell got me inspired. I read and watched various interviews and videos with them, where they described the process. But I used these kind of effects intuitively before. I thought it was cheating – and I was ashamed that I couldn’t find a “proper” editing solution to a problem in the movie. I was taught to always find a way using a simple cut, not to resort to “tricks”. When I learned about PEVs I was relieved, that maybe it’s not cheating – that it is the evolution of editing techniques. I think using PEVs gets editing even closer to directing.

Could you describe PEVs in your own words?

PEVs are techniques of merging audiovisual elements of film that are at editor’s disposal. It’s mainly visual elements, but I extend that to audio, with all the ways that sound can help “sell” a shot or a scene. It’s the synthesis of what was shot on set but not at the same time. It’s a collage with consistency. PEVs create what was intended on set but never happened there.

Can you recall the first time you used these effects, and can you tell us what your thought process was at that time?

I guess it was one of the films in film school. Two characters were sitting on a bench. I wanted to hold a shot of them sitting for a little longer, but one of the characters got up and walked away. I did a split screen with slowdown on this moving character, so the two of them sat together a little longer. It looked acceptable, so I left it in the movie.

I too have heard of PEVs referred to as “tricks” not related to storytelling even by experienced editors. Where do you think this perception might come from? Is it the unfamiliarity with the technique, a misunderstanding, or is there something more to it?

Experienced editors might think that PEVs will replace basic skills and techniques of storytelling in film editing. PEVs are expansion of our skill set. Maybe some not tech-savvy editors are afraid that these techniques are difficult, or that the “classic-NLE” means of editing will become obsolete. I think any problem can be resolved with simple cuts and make particular thing work in the movie. With PEVs we can not only make something work in the edit, but make it look better.

You said that PEVs make editing more like directing. This is a very astute observation. Can you elaborate on that?

When you make some actors do things that they didn’t do on set, you’re stepping into the shoes of the director. Using PEVs is like doing a re-shoot. In most cases PEVs help with problematic situations with actors in the footage. Directors and actors are very close on set, but in the editing bay the intimacy starts to grow between the footage and editors. This relationship is not as direct as its counterpart on set, but editors are still “saying” to actors “do this, do that” with cuts, and even more with PEVs.

Zbig in the editing/colour suite. He decided to avoid showing his favourite NLE - because he loves them all.

Zbigniew in his editing/grading suite. He decided to avoid showing his favourite NLE – because he loves and knows them all.

Do PEVs influence the way you approach editing?

I try to use PEVs as the last resort. I dive into the footage to find what I may have omitted, to look at it from a different perspective, to find gems. Only when I’m sure I will not find what I’m looking for, I use PEVs. It would be lazy to use PEVs before that. All those editors in the history of cinema resolved difficult situations with their creativity – we cannot lower our standards and standards of our profession.

Does the knowledge and ability to perform PEVs allow you to be a better editor and tell better stories?

It’s always about telling a better story. Be it PEVs, transitions, effects – they all should serve the story. Cliché, but that’s what I think. But I’m a fan of a simple cut. I’m more proud of myself, when I resolve a problem with straight cuts than with PEVs.

Do PEVs change the way you look at the footage and think about it?

Yes, but I try to use “PEVs perspective” on footage only when all other ways of problem solving in editing failed. When I see the footage for the first time I’m not automatically analyzing “Here I will use split-screen, here I will do a slowdown and add a mask”. All these ideas come later if they’re really required.

What differentiates PEVs from the “true” editing?

I think PEVs don’t make the editing any less “true”. But maybe cutting on Steenbeck, KEM or Moviola was “true” editing. It was all about cuts. Any dissolves involved sending a cut to laboratory, not mentioning more difficult processes. I was editing on Steenbeck for a year in film school and I thought about simple cuts, not masks, slowdowns, cloning or repositions. So maybe the “true edit” is something that was available almost since the dawn of cinema: a cut.

Do you think PEVs should be taught to new editors in film schools? To what extent?

When students understand the basic principles of editing and they can solve issues with techniques known to the editors in the era of film – then yes, they should be taught to use PEVs. But in the first years of education, maybe, just maybe, they should be forbidden to use them.

Do PEVs influence your relationship with the director?

Yes. At first, the directors were hesitant to use this technique. They didn’t know that the tools were in an NLE. After few shots done this way which looked good, they were like: let’s merge this part of this take with the other shot into one. If I wasn’t sure that I searched through all the footage for particular scene or sequence I didn’t agree to use PEVs.

How often are you using PEVs?

I try to minimize the use of this technique, as I explained before. It can range from 5 to 15 shots in a movie.

How much are you doing yourself, and how much is passed to the VFX team?

I’m doing an offline version with offline resolution footage in an NLE. VFX guys get online resolution clips and they’re doing the final shot. I have to be sure to pass all the necessary metadata and references so that they can recreate what was approved in the offline. So the idea is created in editing room but it’s realized by the VFX department.

What was your simplest shot that you created?

I think that it was the one created in film school, still intuitively. I like these kind of simple treatments, but my ambition is to create – if a film I am editing requires it – some PEVs with face replacement or roto to smoothly add body parts. These kind of manipulations are still not my league.

Can you tell us about your most complex shot?

It was a reaction shot of six people. In each take they weren’t synchronized in their movements. I had to merge their reactions so they would turn their heads and bodies at the same time. The shot was static, but you had to compensate for slight differences in camera position and positions of the actors. It’s not that hard technically, but the choice of particular takes and timing is crucial. Of course, the VFX team made it even better.

And the most satisfying one?

The most complex shots are the most satisfying ones.

How much time do you spend on a shot?

From a few minutes to half an hour at the most. The time is precious in the editing bay so If I can’t achieve it in the short time I just make it less polished and leave it for the VFX team. Sometimes shots are more complicated, so NLE tools are not enough.

What kind of tools do you use to make PEVs in your daily work?

In today’s post production world there is no comfort in knowing only one NLE. So I use the one that’s desired for particular project. Inside Media Composer there’s the Animatte effect. Inside Premiere Pro – masks, that are now very nicely built into clips effects controls and other effects. In Final Cut Pro X – the Draw Mask effect. I also use retiming on selected composited shots – my favorite is FluidMotion retiming in Media Composer. So masks and retiming are basic tools for PEVs.

Thanks a lot for your thoughts.

Premiere Pro Clip Markers – Solved!


I’ve written a lot about Premiere Pro and metadata. Surprisingly, almost as an after thought, the solution was shipped in the October 2014 release of Creative Cloud applications. It is hiding in the preference panel under the “Media” tab, and is called “Write clip markers to XMP”. I believe this is one of the most important features that was added to Premiere, because it addresses the issue of backup, archive and project sharing and also helps with on-line/off-line workflows.

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SpeedGrade Is Like Photoshop

SpeedGrade Is Photoshop

Quite often I hear from new users that SpeedGrade is not intuitive, difficult, and completely different from any other Adobe application. Curious but unaware people are quickly discouraged by its seemingly complicated and impenetrable interface. In some sense this is true, there are complex and dark places in SpeedGrade frequented only by those few who dare, but with each release, the software is becoming more and more similar to this company’s most famous application – the ubiquitous Photoshop. see more

How To Fix Hiero XML Export For Premiere… Sort Of


Some time ago, if you ever tried to export XML from Hiero to Premiere, you got a generic importer error message and that was it. This issue – audio related – was thankfully fixed in later versions of Hiero. However, another hydra reared its ugly head, and this time attempted XML interchange resulted in something along these lines: see more

A Storm Or A Spoon


Update: The 7.1 version due out in October is going to fix the issue altogether. Great job, Adobe!

Being the one to spoil the party is no fun, especially if you like the host, or enjoy the meals. But when your favourite dish was rotten and received only a little ketchup treatment, well… sometimes you have to be vocal about it.

Let me at first say that I love the party. To have an update within a month of the release, that fixes a major multicam bug (which for some reason I have not fallen prey to) and adds plethora of new features that will make life and editing easier is awesome. This is the power of Creative Cloud that a lot of people were talking about. There’s no denying, that the party is well deserved.

If you want to learn of all the new features and improvements to Premiere Pro which come with version 7.0.1 update, take a look at the official Premiere Pro blog or reTooled.net tutorial. They will show you the goodies, and these are plenty.

But unfortunately for me, one issue is not completely resolved. And it’s not for the lack of trying.

I wrote before about a nasty curves issue, and for some reason my post was not received with enthusiasm at the home of Premiere Pro. I really, really hoped it would be resolved in this update, and that I will be able to join the happy fest. Well… it is, and it isn’t.

The good news is that the curves no longer clip superwhites and superblacks on input. Depending on how you use the curves it might or it might not be the solution. If you never move the starting and ending points of the curves from their places, you’re good to go. Also, if you only move them up or down, to reduce the dynamic range, you should rejoice, because it works as it used to as well.

But if you ever move these points to the inside, namely the point on the left to the right, or the point on the right to the left, to add contrast, and you hoped to later recover the clipping, your troubles did not go away. Sometimes they might even be compounded.

Unfortunately the curves still not work as they used to. This example of course is exaggerated to the extreme to make a point.

Unfortunately the curves still do not work as they used to. This example of course is exaggerated to the extreme to make the point.

Because the curves will flatten everything what is beyond the leftmost or the rightmost curve points up until the left or right border. Then they will resume their 45 degree slope. To many it might be a non-issue. To me it is. To me it means that most of my old projects will still have to be rendered out in CS6, and I will have to be careful with the new ones, especially when using Jarle’s grading presets.

I am not happy. Depending on where you sit, this is either a storm in a teacup or a spoonful of tar that spoils the barrel of honey. Unfortunately, I belong to the second group, and it’s no fun at all.

The Case For Three-Button Mouse Editing


RzrNaga2012_view3Mouse-driven editing has usually been associated with the lower end of video editing, and to a certain extent justifiably so. If I see a person using only his or her mouse to edit, I don’t consider them very seriously. Editing is a tough job, and a human being has two hands, so why not put both of them to work? Put that left hand on the keyboard right now!

The question of whether the right hand should spend more time there as well or not is debatable. Even though I have been driven through CS6 mixed bag of innovations to make more extensive use of my touch-typing skills during editing, I am still looking to improve on the mouse side of things, because the hybrid mouse + keyboard editing has been historically the fastest way to use Premiere.

When it comes to mouse mastery, nothing can beat 3D artists, especially modellers. The necessity to constantly change the point of view in three dimensions clearly showed that not only a single mouse button is not enough, but that even two will not suffice. You need a 3-button mouse to work in a 3D application. Period.

Granted, using the middle button with most mice is something that requires a bit of practice, since often it entails pushing on the scroll wheel. However, the newly acquired skill gives you more flexibility, and options. Why then not use a 3-button mouse in editing? And why not take advantage of the fact, that pushing the middle button is not as easy, as pushing the other ones?

One thing that I found myself using a lot during mouse-driven editing was delete and ripple delete. Even after remapping my keyboard, it still remained a two-click process. First select the clip, then hit delete. Fortunately you can use both hands, but still, there is some space for optimization here. The middle mouse button could be used to perform a single click ripple delete.

Another idea for middle mouse button is to map it to “Deselect all”, and it might become pretty handy with the incoming CS Next confusion about the primacy of selection over playhead, or targeted tracks for example during applying transitions.

Both of these options are available now via many macro recording and automation pieces of software. Personally I use the ones that came with my mice – either Microsoft’s IntelliMouse or Razer Synapse. They both allow remapping the middle mouse click for certain applications to a macro or a shortcut key (and much more, if you wish to explore them further). Therefore I first make sure to create the keyboard shortcuts to “Ripple Delete” or “Deselect All”, and then to map these shortcuts to the middle mouse button. And voila! Single click ripple delete or deselect all are literally at your fingertips now.

The quest for ever more efficient editing continues, and I hope to have some exciting information for you soon.