Assistant Editors and AMA

The more we move away from tape as a way to get in and out of an Avid — and the more we move to HD — the more people start to wonder what the assistant’s role is. Assistants used to have primary responsibility for input and output. Of course, that’s just one part of the job, but it’s a key part.

If you’re working with Avid Media Access (AMA), input seems to get a lot easier. All you do is hook up a drive, point the Media Composer at the drive and within a couple of seconds you’ve magically got yourself a bin populated with clips and containing column after column of neatly organized metadata. The first time you do this the whole world tilts before your eyes. Instant ingest. AMA works with many formats and, because Avid makes it possible for vendors to add formats on their own, more are coming.

But that initial, mind-bending experience is deceptive. First, AMA isn’t a slam dunk for projects that originate on film. So far, nobody has figured out how to get all the telecine data (key numbers and audio timecode) into AMA clips. But that’ll get worked out, soon enough. The real challenges are more mundane — organizing and archiving.

AMA allows you to work with media that does not live in an Avid MediaFiles folder. And that makes it much easier to lose it. Not as bad as Final Cut, where people have coined the phrase “the reconnect dance,” — but though AMA is reputedly smarter, things can still get lost.

More important, if we move to file-based ingest then in many cases assistants are going to be responsible for handling original materials. And that means making multi-terabyte backups religiously, keeping them organized, and storing them securely offsite. Editors and assistants are not used to this responsibility.

My sense is that after the initial euphoria of “instant bin creation” wears off, we’re going to realize that file-based workflows, like so many other digital innovations, while slick as can be, actually complicate things and create work rather than eliminate it.

It used to be that every show inaugurated a new sound workflow. Now, with digital camera formats proliferating, every show inaugurates a new vide0 workflow, too. Things are getting more complicated. And our responsibilities and workloads grow bigger, not smaller.

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10 Comments on “Assistant Editors and AMA”

  1. Robin Buday Says:

    The post house should be archiving all tapeless media to a large SAN and LTO tapes and the camera crew should have the media in at least 2-3 different places also (usually external drives). Usually the post house keeps track of the backups for you and takes on the responsibility of proper archive.

  2. Steve Says:

    True enough — as long as they’re involved. But, needless to say, many lower-budget productions are going to try to do an end run around the post house.

    And if the post house does do all the archiving and delivers digital dailies — are we looking at less work for picture assistants?

    • David Helfand Says:

      Steve’s observation about low budget productions is where tapeless workflows have the greatest impact on editorial – and not necessarily positive. In my experience, cutting AVC-100 media natively (Avid or FCP) has introduced as many drawbacks as the obvious benefits. Production saves $ by recording onto P2 cards with two wireless cameras, avoiding the cost of a DIT. But the wireless P2 audio is problematic, so assistants have to make subclips, hand syncing all dailies (from two cameras) to the wav files recorded by the production mixer. To minimize the number of P2 cards rented, our assistants also have to Q-C all the imported dailies – every day in real time – so that Prod can feel safe recycling P2 cards asap. The end result is that my asst spends hours each day doing things that a facility used to do overnight. I’d prefer he spend that time ScriptSyncing my dailies, cutting sound effects, balancing dialogue levels or many other tasks that help me prepare my cut. I want my assts technically and organizationally immaculate, but I also want them to learn the craft, which is something they don’t get from excessive attention to file management. As an editor, I don’t agree with Adam S.’s one-sided definition of an assistant’s role. Regrettably, this is an opinion often shared by producers and others who decide what responsibilities the assistant I hired must do, co-opting their time beyond my control. Lastly, there are certainly better workflows than what we’re using, but how often is editorial consulted when schedules, budgets and workflows are being decided? To an extent most productions, apart from the highest budget ones, are “low-budget” in that they always look to cut costs where they can and tapeless workflows, however ill-conceived, are very sexy.

      • Steve Says:

        I guess the good news here is that there’s plenty for the assistant to do in a tapeless environment.

        The bad news is that it what the assistant does, more and more, has very little to do with editing.

  3. Robin Buday Says:

    Not less work. Just different work… I’m sure there are a dozen or so other thing the assist could be doing no? Checking sync, grouping clips, watching each take and making notes about which ones are best, anything that would help the editor out…

  4. Eric Brodeur Says:

    As someone with a very technical background (and working in Editorial) I have already seen the sloppiness given to file-based projects. It’s not that Assistants need to become tech gurus but as it stands now they need to treat file organization with a lot more respect (and knowledge) than they do now.

    I’d rather have a post-house do the archive work but unless they can do so on smaller budgets, Producers will be buying external drives and living in blissful oblivion.

  5. ron Says:

    I haven’t cut anything originating on film or tape in over a year. Good file backup and organization is easy and a must. All part of the new post production reality.
    BTW, as someone who primarily works on FCP, I have no problems with media management or finding and reconnecting files because I am organized to an anal fault. A simple folder structure for all projects with media files in a separate and specific drive/ location are essential to making this work.

  6. Etienne Says:

    The assistant job is changing on a practical/technical level, but ultimately the objective is to keep things smooth before (input), during and after (output) the editing process. On tapeless workflows for a couple of shows I work on, the assistant is now usually on set, responsible for the data ingest. Great thing is he can start organizing as the shooting-day progresses on a laptop. Yes, the assistant needs to understand the importance of organization structure on AMA projects. A bit of education here is necessary, but like ron says, assistants that have real experience working on FC hopefully have decent folder structure to ensure a smooth workflow.

  7. Piri Miller Says:

    I think part of the job of an assistant – especially in the current climate of ever changing technology – is to constantly stay on top of that technology in order to make the editor’s job of the creative edit easier. Whether in Avid or FC this means meticulous organization and an understanding of how both work.
    I suppose it remains to be seen whether tapeless workflows will keep assistants busier and less able to practice the craft or whether it will free them up perhaps to learn more about the creative side. My fear is the former…

  8. Adam S. Says:

    I work with the technical side setting up edit systems for TV & Film. I find in film more than TV people are looking for their chance to become an editor rather than learning their job as an assistant. I’ve had some really great experiences with AE’s soaking up all the info they can and they really know that being organized is their top priority and it is is becoming more true every day with these tapeless workflows. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious and having a goal to become an editor. Learning is the key and it’s why we are all here.


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