Open Standards

I just finished reading an article in the Editors Guild Magazine about the making of “Zodiac.” It’s pretty hard to figure out exactly what they did, but the general outlines are there and they reinforce a lot of what I’ve been saying in recent posts, namely that file-based workflows are coming at us very quickly.

The show was shot with the Viper FilmStream camera and used Final Cut Pro in the editing room. The editors were responsible for archiving and cataloging the original camera source files, for down-converting those files to DVCPRO HD for editing, and, apparently, for conforming the show back to 2K for the DI. They also did some color correction using FinalTouch. In other words, the cutting room took on a lot more responsibility than is traditional. That’s good news for assistants because there was certainly plenty of work for them, but if this workflow takes hold it also means that assistants and editors have a lot of learning to do.

If everything’s going to end up as files, then much of the work on a show will turn on how we handle, store and move these things, and, most important, how they translate from one program to another. And here, I worry about Avid. The company has stuck with closed standards for a long time now. That made sense in the old days when people wanted something that was totally supported and really worked. We still want that today, of course, but more and more, we want to be able to pick the best software for the job and move materials back and forth transparently.

In that environment, Avid’s closed approach looks more and more anachronistic. Avid bins can’t be opened by other programs, Avid visual effects don’t translate into anything except Avid products, Quicktime export and import is slow and confusing, and even Avid sound files can be hard to share with all data intact.

On the other hand, the Media Composer still has many advantages, and Avid tends to understand our work very well. This stuff is still new, and there are plenty of hiccups on both sides of the aisle. But it’s easy to see that the company that gets this right is going to have a big advantage.

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7 Comments on “Open Standards”

  1. Liam Says:

    An interesting few minutes about the FCP workflow on Zodiac…

  2. Steve Says:


    Thanks for the link. It’s interesting, and well produced, but, as with so much of the Apple advertising, there’s not much content there. And I was just a wee little bit concerned with Fincher’s comment about how the editor can take work home and show it to him in the morning. Seems like a sign of things to come.


  3. Liam Says:

    Yeah lol! You cannot escape work even at home… Yes the clip did seem like a well polished propaganda film and i was a little concerned with some of the content i saw too. i love Fincher but seeing the director picking the shots over the editor’s shoulder seems scary to me! I am all for giving the director a chance to give opinions but I think an editor should atleast get a first cut before the director sees the film. Hopefully after this is done the 2 minds can meet in the middle somewhere. My concern is the editor, thanks to multiclip will become just a controller/assistant unable to leave their own mark on the film. I personally am not a fan of multiclip if i am doing a live concert i guess i can see the merits but editing a film with multiclip seems a bit rushed. I’m seeing Zodiac tonight, looking forward to it.

  4. Steve Says:

    Our old phrase was, “pair of hands.” As in, “you’re just a pair of hands.” But I doubt that this is Fincher and Wall’s relationship. Probably more a function of the way the video was put together.

    Let us know what you think of the film.


  5. christopher Says:

    more integration with vfx is probably another facet of production that will intrude on editorial. thelma schoonmaker at the ace panel of oscar editing nominees mentioned her close interaction with their vfx team numerous times and she even thanked them during her acceptance speech. also during that panel steven rosenblum predicted we’ll see editors cutting together dailies during lunch so directors can know if they’ve missed anything (i’ve posted a transcript of the session on my blog).

    i’ve seen a similar nascent crossover between digital intermediate and vfx. obviously not everything can be duplicated in di, but it’s amazing what colorists are being called on to do (face replacements, etc). it’ll be fascinating to see what workflow looks like a few years from now. certainly knowledge and familiarity with other aspects of filmmaking will be key.

  6. Liam Says:

    Zodiac was better than i thought it would be! Unsurprisingly if you had told me it had been edited on iMovie I would of been like “really? i cant tell the diference.” Obviously this must of been a huge project with the amount of scenes/shots so i ddo think work flow was a key factor in the post of this film. I thought it was very interesting and very well made. The 2 people snoring and the 2 ladies i was with sprawling out for a little nap may suggest otherwise, it is a very long film to be fair specially starting at 10pm…

  7. Steve Says:

    Christopher — very good summary of the Invisible Art seminar. Thanks for sharing it. I think, more and more, we’re all becoming generalists, partly because the software permits us to do that. You see this all the time in sound.

    Liam — I’ve heard the same thing from others regarding Zodiac. Slow but effective, and well done technically. I think, given what they did, that the fact that you can’t tell they worked that way is probably a high compliment. It gave them flexibility and power. And eventually, I assume it’ll save money.

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