Get Ready for Bigger Editing Crews

It sure seems like the trend with digital production is to shoot more. The idea is that since tape or hard drive space is free (or cheaper than film, anyway) directors are shooting rehearsals, and are letting the cameras run as long as possible.

In 1979 “Apocalypse Now” had one of the highest shooting ratios of the time and shot about a million feet of film. It took four editors two years to finish it. We in the longform world have generally used that figure, a million feet, as the worst case, the red badge of courage for editing, the gold standard of “too much film.” Today, that number is becoming all too common. “A Scanner Darkly,” a terrific but relatively small film, shot about 140 hours of DV material — equivalent to 750,000 feet of 35mm film (article). On one day they had 22 hours of dailies.

At a recent seminar at the DGA, Tony Bill touted digital production for exactly these reasons, saying that it changes performances because you can keep the camera rolling almost continuously.

Digital editing was supposed to make the lives of film editors easier. We were going to go home at 5 every day! And now, in yet another example of the law of unintended consequences, digital production, which is supposed to lower costs, is going to increase editorial crews. We’ll need extra assistants to go through though giant takes and break them down into usable pieces. And we’re going to need multiple editors just to get into first cut.

The first thing the editor has to do is VIEW the dailies. If production shoots six or eight hours of material every day that leaves precious little time to actually do the work of editing.

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4 Comments on “Get Ready for Bigger Editing Crews”

  1. Ed Abroms, Sr. Says:

    Steven,

    You have surfaced with a wonderful Web site. Looking forward to future articles and tech news.

    My son Ed, Jr has edited several projects (features) on FCP. You might want to chat with him.

    Ed Abroms, Sr

  2. Robin Buday Says:

    I’m glad that there is going to be more of a need for editors. It means that there will be more work available to me when I graduate!

  3. twistedtrees Says:

    I don’t know much about film (I’m a TV/video editor), but I was always under the impression that going digital wasn’t necessarily about making it easier for the editors, but making it cheaper for the content producers. Now instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on film stock, researching the film stock to get the right grain & look, you just shoot, shoot, shoot, and add a filter or DI later.

    Now the problem turns into what you’re describing. The producers are saying,”Hey, it’s supposed to be cheaper, so why would we want to spend more money on more editors and more people to manage that workflow.” then you go back to the original problem of more work, longer hours and stress for the editor.

    BTW, you’d probably hate me though because I’m always complaining about lack of B-roll (not enough footage). I always feel like I’m pulling a MacGuyver edit trying to make something out of nothing.

  4. Steve Says:

    For what it’s worth, the motivation for the original decision to use digital editing tools, at least in feature films, was creative. The price was roughly the same as film, maybe more expensive because we continued to print film dailies. Some shows soon stopped printing film and said they were saving money, but when you really analyzed everything the cost savings weren’t necessarily all that huge because they had to print selects for previews and they were doing that at a higher per foot cost. And telecine from negative was more expensive than telecine from print, so if you didn’t print, your telecine price went up.

    Directors liked digital editing because it made the process much more responsive for them. Editors liked the idea because it got rid of the drugery of film and was faster.

    In television the equation was different and cost would have been a stronger motivator.

    In production, it seems like the creative issues are going to drive the transition, too.


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