Finishing Puffers & #Dieselgate

Finished up on Scotland’s Vital Spark: the Clyde Puffer (as it’s now called) last Friday. Everyone was happy with it, including me. It’s a lovely show that’s equal part history and heart. It’ll be straight onto the Career Highlights section of my CV.

I haven’t updated that yet, though, nor have I my LinkedIn profile. The reason: baby #2’s only a fortnight away and I have so much to do it’s not funny. (This post, as you can imagine, is pure procrastination.)

I did get a fair amount done yesterday: 3 items on my wife’s list of 10. Not bad considering my I got a notification at 1030 that traffic was light to the Free Vehicle Health Check I’d booked two weeks before (and rather hurriedly, as I was mid-edit and wanted to get them off the phone). You’ll be glad to hear my car’s fine.

More of the same today. By way of an offering, though, here’s a video that struck me. It’s Red Dwarf actor and Scrapheap Challenge presenter, Robert Llewellyn’s Fully Charged, a web series he does about cleaner car propulsion. In this mini-ep, he’s having an impassioned rant about the recent news that VW have been fiddling their emissions tests. What stuck me in particular is his hatred of diesel. I currently have a petrol-fuelled car, but the two before that were diesel, and I paid extra for the the very last one because I wanted the diesel over the identical petrol model. (It also had 19″ alloy wheels, which may have been a factor.) The point being that I considered myself a “Diesel Guy”. I thought it was clean and economical (don’t laugh). Well, Mr. Llewellyn can rest assured that he’s changed at least one mind.

Other People’s Eyes, and why Kubrick’s last film is, I think, unfinished

An editor will prepare a cut in near-isolation. It would be total isolation if it wasn’t for the director (or Edit Producer, who does the director’s job in the cutting room, but wasn’t involved in the shoot) and the handful of producer’s who drop in to make sure you’re not making Ishtar. Both the editor and director will become very close to the material, and their particular presentation of it. There’s been much written about the importance of accepting notes in a dispassionate and professional way (here’s an article by Chris Jones, for example, with which I couldn’t agree more), but there’s another aspect of presenting a late, hopefully very close-to-finished version to a person or group who have little knowledge of your process, that’s extremely beneficial: as well as gauging their reaction (which they’ll be all too happy to tell you about), you’re suddenly aware of, and often surprised by, your own.

Continue reading “Other People’s Eyes, and why Kubrick’s last film is, I think, unfinished”

Final Cut Pro X 10.2: New Masks

The new mask capabilities of FCPX in 10.2 were immediately a godsend: the video I was working on at the time immediately benefitted, and in that respect it was as helpful as the arrival of Libraries in 10.1. (Ripple Training have a great overview of the new masking features.)

The video was this little campaign message for my local Green Party candidate, Moira Crawford:


I knew when I filmed Moira that the porch behind her would blow out, but as each set-up was locked-off, I could film some under-exposed footage to mask in.

Moira Crawford underexposed
Under-exposed shot for the benefit of the porch background


Whereas earlier versions of FCPX were limited to a four-point mask (unless you installed 3rd-party plug-ins), I could now mask out the window and play with this shot underneath.

Comparison between final comp and unaffected footage of Moira
Comparison between final comp and unaffected footage of Moira


Whether or not you like my grade (I made it quite flat to distinguish it from the B-roll, which was quite contrasty), it’s surely an objective fact that the porch blowing-out wasn’t ideal.

Previously, I’d have either done a less satisfactory mask in FCPX, or sent everything to Motion, which is a pain.

These enhancements to the default masking capabilities are most, most welcome.



Slow Train Through Africa

I did a wee bit of work on Slow Train Through Africa with Griff Rhys Jones. When I came in, some of the episodes had been entirely finished, but the one assigned to me just had a few tweaks before final sign-off.

I was immediately impressed with the show, and knew that it was the kind of thing I’d watch even if I’d had nothing to do with it. Essentially, Mr. Jones travels round the continent of Africa by train, exploring the strange history of its railways, the colonial powers who built them (often against incredible odds) and, most importantly, the people whose lives were affected. And because it’s GRJ driving the engine, there’s plenty of humour.

So what I did were tweaks to episode two, where Griff visits Kenya and Tanzania, but I like to think I made the sequences I worked on (I didn’t touch much of the show) pop. Hope so, anyway.

The final product is well worth watching regardless. The first run starts this Friday, 10th April on ITV in the UK.

Stunning aerial photography combines with observational travelogue to produce a fresh portrait of Africa through Griff’s experiences on and off the train. On each epic trip across five episodes, he discovers how the railway reveals a great deal about the places he travels through.  Griff uses the train to get to unexpected places in deserts and forests, villages and cities, learning stories of their past and finding out how they are used today.

Link to announcement.


I’ve been FCPX Grilled

FCPX Grill logo

You know that scene from The Jerk, where Navin R. Johnson leaps ecstatically into the air when the phone book arrives because it’s the first one to feature his name? “My name in print!” he beams, “Things are going to start happening to me now.” (Cut to M. Emmet Walsh’s crazed sniper randomly opening his copy and choosing our hero as his imminent victim.) Well I had a similar feeling when I decided to call myself the Final Cut Bro’ on Twitter. People will see that name, thought I, and know that I’m to be reckoned with: not just any editor, but the Final Cut Bro’. Things will start happening to me now. A mere three years later, something did. Continue reading “I’ve been FCPX Grilled”

Happy New Year

What a Year! logoI wasn’t going to stay up for “the bells” because I was seriously sleep deprived, but curiosity got the better of me. I’d edited the Hogmanay show for STV, and part of our job was to time the countdown to 2015 so that it would be broadcast at precisely the correct moment. I couldn’t verify our success if I watched a recording, so opened another beer and stayed up to watch it.

A review of the year using mostly news archive, it was the first time I’d worked with Shiona McCubbin and the latest of many times I’d worked with Brendan O’Hara. Both have that magical combination of being really, really good at what they do and charming company while we batter the show into shape.John_and_Jennifer

As the broadcast went on, I started to wonder if it had been trimmed since I finished working on it. I couldn’t put my finger on how, exactly, but one bit in particular made me rewind slightly to check. It turned out that they had made room for the tragedy of December 22nd, when the bin lorry went out of control in George Square.

Mystery of the minor edits solved, I awaited the countdown to midnight. When it began I looked at my watch, only to find that the moment had already come and gone—2015 had arrived! A moment of panic, then: we’d screwed up. But then I remembered that I’d rewound the broadcast and forgotten to wind it forward again. There went the point of fighting fatigue and watching it live.

So I’m just going to assume all was well.

Happy New Year.

Gone Girl—no spoilers

Gone Girl movie poster via Wikipedia

Getting to the movies isn’t really realistic anymore now I’m a dad. I’ve let my Cineworld subscription lapse. That’s not to say there aren’t films I want to see right now: Interstellar, The Imitation Game, Gone Girl.

Of those, Interstellar is the only ‘better see it in the theatre’ movie, but I was anxious to see Gone Girl because I knew it’s a mystery drama and I didn’t want the mystery solved before I saw it, the solution blurted out by someone on the train. This is unusual for me, because I usually don’t give a damn about spoilers. Hell, if I get the chance to read the screenplay before I see the movie, I do. The Searchers, The Manchurian Candidate (the 1962 one), the last three Star Wars films—I read them before I saw them.

But I chanced upon this article (can’t find it now, sorry) which explained that Fincher and co. felt the need to do some nimble adaptation gymnastics because they believed that if you knew The Twist!!! (as the 8.5 million people who made the book a bestseller did, at least) there would be no point in seeing the film at all. Really? This twist, once known, would render the film worthless? That must be some special twist, and I wanted Fincher to deliver it to me the way he wanted.

Our pal, Lorna, is an inveterate cinema-goer, and I asked her if she’d seen it. Surprising, she hadn’t, and—lo and behold!—she didn’t seem that keen to because, yes, she’s read the book and already knew The Twist. “I didn’t see it coming,” she said, the platonic ideal of all plot twists. I told her about the article and how the filmmakers had worked overtime to throw a bone to those poor audience members who’d read the novel, presumably being dragged to the movie house by their illiterate friends, but I didn’t get the impression it appeared on her todo list.

As it became clear that I couldn’t catch the film, I made it 8.5 million and one and bought the book. And read it. I’ll now give you some thoughts without, hopefully, spoiling anything. But…

The thing is, I think it was already spoiled, to nearly the same extent that it would had been if someone had just flatly told me the secret. I couldn’t read the pre-Twist section all innocent and malleable, because of the simple fact that I knew The Twist was coming, and that it was a humdinger that could ruin movies. Accordingly, I couldn’t help but try to guess it, and I’m afraid I did.

That’s not to say I’m some Poirot genius. I guessed a lot of things, suspected everybody, believed nobody, and the Twist just turned out to be one of the bazillion things I’d considered. Thankfully, (spoiler alert!) it’s not a last-page thing, there’s still plenty of story to get through after it happens (and I saw none of that coming) so even if someone gives the main game away, it’s still worth reading, still a page-turner.

But was I really supposed to read the pre-Twist chapters in such a state of forensic scepticism? Wasn’t knowing there was a Twist at all just as bad as knowing what it was? Maybe not quite as bad, but the affect, that I wasn’t caught unawares, was pretty much the same.

This is why I find secret plot twists tiresome. Not big plot twists, secret ones, Hollywood ones, non-disclosure agreement ones.* Have them, enjoy them, but a well told story doesn’t require ignorance, otherwise you’d never see a movie more than once. I know from tickling my daughter: the first, surprise, tickle’s fun, but better is the next, the one she’s waiting for.

And now I’m interested in seeing the film without any of the needless anxiety. Instead, I’m looking forward to seeing how they land the punch. That alone will keep me on the edge of my seat. Basically, I’m glad I know.


*George Lucas has apparently frozen Darth Vader body, David Prowse, out of all official promotion and hasn’t spoken to him since 1983 because he gave away too much of Return of the Jedi’s plot in an interview. That must be why the film bombed at the box office and Lucas is broke.

Premiere Pro pain — necessary or not?

No one likes unnecessary pain.

It must’ve seemed like unnecessary pain to many editors, having to learn a new piece of software when the old one works just fine. And no, I’m not talking about Final Cut Pro X (yet), but Final Cut Pro 7. Years ago, I saw a lot of hostility towards it from Avid guys, and I always thought that, frankly, they were just too lazy to learn a new bit of software.

That sentiment, though, has come back to haunt me as I’m being forced into the world of Adobe’s Premiere Pro for the first time. In my one day’s work with it, it hasn’t impressed me, but is that its problem or mine?

Continue reading “Premiere Pro pain — necessary or not?”

Breaking News: Final Cut Pro 7 is still dead!

Gotta say, I agree with this post regarding Final Cut Pro 7. I just finished a job with it and, sadly, it wasn’t up to the task.

Admittedly, I’d over-estimated it, recommending against transcoding footage from a C300 (which poor old FCP7 insists is XDCAM HD422) when the client indicated that storage space was limited. I know we could’ve transcoded to proxies, but the initial tests with a few clips showed no performance hit and I figured it would preclude pernickety re-linking come Online Time. However, when trying to deal with an hour-long timeline and gazillions of clips, FCP7 continually freaked out.

And I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s not just dead, it’s bean dead for nearly two years (if you count from the FCPX announcement rather than the release). That’s a long time not to have replaced it. Sure, you can say it works as well as it ever did, but we’re not using the media we always did. We’re hiring the latest cameras, using the latest codecs, so, in real terms, Final Cut Pro 7 does not work as well as it always did.

There’s also the dead bug problem. All software has bugs, but I’ve always been able to live with them because you knew that somewhere, someone was working to fix them. There were enough examples of updates that addressed that specific bug that you’d been ranting about, and it was like letting out a piss that had been getting painful.

The instant Final Cut Pro X was announced, though, you knew that no one was lifting a finger for version 7. It would crash and you’d get the standard ‘Final Cut Pro quit unexpectedly. Do you want to send a report to Apple?’ and it seemed like a joke. Did these reports now go in a killfile? Maybe the best ones got read out at the Infinite Loop Christmas party. “Quieten down: this one’s a belter. ‘Crashed while dragging keyframes on a .png that was’ — get this! — ‘12,238 by 9,496!’ Ahahahahaha!”

Whatever. They certainly weren’t helping to improve the software. The problem you’re having? You’ll have it forever. That was the thing, for me, that really made Final Cut 7 really feel dead.

And yet I still hear people saying, “I suppose I’d better think about where to go next.” Mr. Ostertag is right though, the day’s getting late for that kind of talk.

For me, Avid’s been a constant throughout my career, so it’s there for the broadcast jobs. When I get the chance I use Final Cut Pro X because it’s already the best way cut shots together, in my opinion, and has the scope to go stratospheric with its new paradigm in the way that the track timelines can only tinker themselves better as far as I can see. I still mean to give Premiere a serious go, though. Hell, I’ve bought it, and a FCPX-shy director I work with is making noises about using it for a feature next year, so I’ll start mucking about as soon as I get a chance.

But I’d be happy to abandon Final Cut Pro 7 forever, frankly. I only relented and installed it on my iMac because the deadline for the job I mentioned at the start was bearing down and I needed to take it home if I was ever to see my wife. I had hoped to keep it just on my old MacbookPro, and only for those times I needed to convert an old project. I didn’t want it on a new machine.

That’s not that I didn’t love it. I did. I loved my father, but I don’t want him exhumed. He’s dead, and so is FCP7. Better face it.

Tip for logging with keywords

My favourite way of logging with keywords is to have ‘No Ratings or Keywords’ selected as the criteria for display in the Event Browser. Then, add a keyword and the clip vanishes. So you always know which clips have yet to be sorted. Ah, but what if you want to add more than one keyword? The clip disappears as soon as you add the first, no? Well…

If the keyword editor is open, the act of committing a keyword (or keywords) to a clip leaves the clip itself in that kind of half-selected limbo where its highlight is grey and not blue. Like it’s selected, but in an inactive window (which, I suppose, is what it is).

[pic of situation]

Here, type all the keywords you want to apply to the next clip (even if there’s a shortcut), select them all and cut them, leaving the field blank. Then click on the next clip and paste the keywords in.

The clip will vanish, but it’ll have all the keywords you wanted associated with it.