Editing by numbers

In life, the only two things I'm ever organized about are video gear and video files. 

On the last documentary I worked on, we had more than a thousand hours of raw footage. First we tried using Premiere Pro's markers in the project to get a handle on the content of the interviews. What later proved to be a lot more useful was coming up with a numbering system on paper. First, we transcribed every single interview. Including the interviews done in different languages. Once we had all the transcripts, we read through the dialogue and began pulling themes. Each theme had a number. So for example (1) Fall of Aleppo (2) U.S. airstrikes (3) ISIS propaganda.. 

We created a numbered Google doc so we could list everything that's been said under (1), (2), (3), etc. Along with a column for numbers, we gave columns for who said it and for the start and end time codes from the original interview so we could find it easily. After that, we assembled our numbered selects in a Premiere project so all the (1)s lived together, all the (2)s, (3)s, etc. in individual sequences.

I'm using the numbering system on another documentary now, which has only three main interviews and is a lot less footage, and organizing the interview sync has been a breeze. Why does this work? I'd say on a neurological level, people process numbers a lot faster than they process words. So editing by numbers distills down information and lets me go back and find the nuggets in the speech. It speeds up the process of finding and creating sync underneath b-roll, and it's faster than reading the transcript and cherry-picking out of the original interview. 

Final Cut Pro X has really adopted this kind of workflow with the ability to do specific keyword searches, but I have to say that I still love having everything in a searchable Google doc. I'm sure in the future, when Premiere Pro realizes they need a better tagging system, they'll come up with something that will automate transcription and metadata all in one so editors can focus on other things.. like for example, this chicken playing piano.


The thing that seemed impossible, unthinkable has happened.

This past week, I listened to a group of filmmakers come to grips with the idea that Trump will be our next president. With the media and filmmaking communities reeling, there's an enormous task and responsibility ahead. As storytellers, artists, filmmakers, we need to understand that our primary job is to listen, and when I say that, it doesn't mean selective listening. 

The first thing we need is to get out of our own echo chambers. We're all guilty of surrounding ourselves with news and communities that reinforce our beliefs. To actively seek out other points of view and step out of our comfort zones is hard. We've got to work against that, and work with media makers and artists to create dialogue.

Next we need to start screening our films and media and accessing audiences that normally wouldn't see these films. How can we take our film to people in the community? How can we distribute to a wider audience by partnering with national organizations?  How can the right and left come together in the age of fractured media? 

Finally, we need to work to de-privilege ourselves. It's a privilege that I get to tell other people's stories. But giving others the tools to tell their own stories empowers those individuals and provides real context to what people experience rather than seeking out your narrative arc. We all have very different versions of reality. I never really understood this before but now more than ever, find your characters, and wait for the story to unfold. 

A short film about life in the modern world

Here's a five-minute cut of Adam Curtis's documentary about being trapped in a system of your own likes and tastes. Wonderfully done and very alarming.


"You spend your days and nights on social media. The original vision was that it was going to open up a new paradise where info was shared freely But now, the algorithms are so strong and know so much about you that they only give you what they know you like. You have become trapped in an echo chamber. But all you see and hear is you.


Storytelling By Joseph Campbell

Stories evoke a sense of wonder in our world, present a conceptual model of that world, establish a sense of right or wrong within that model, and teach individuals how to deal with major life events in the meantime. 

“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth--penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.” ― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Because film shows us exits and goodbyes,  it shows us how to grieve and express ourselves, it lets us be able to grieve. How characters deal with loss is how we deal with loss. How we cope in the most universal of struggles and how to experience loss.


Subtitling in Premiere

Right now I'm subtitling a documentary that has interviews in Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, French and German. What I've concluded is captioning in Premiere is not great. You would think subtitles are straightforward given all the years we've had to develop something that works, but working on a documentary that has six languages, I've found it to be a rather complicated technical process. Two good solutions I've found are 1) Exporting PNG files with InDesign or 2) Exporting a FinalCut XML file from an SRT (subtitling) file using a German-made software called Annotation Edit. Both have their pros and cons.

For InDesign, watch this video: https://vimeo.com/80445034
Pros: Free if you have InDesign, Text can be globally formatted. 
Cons: You can't edit the actual text once it sits in Premiere, you have to know the time codes of the translated subtitles and place them in yourself
Best for: Lower thirds. If you need change style or color to your text, you can update the PNG files and lower thirds are changed all at once.

Annotation Edit, on the other hand, creates Premiere's text files, and it uses time codes. 
Pros: Text is editable in Premiere, and the text is imported with a time code. 
Cons: Expensive (245 Euros), the software can be glitchy, and you can't make global changes. It exports a Final Cut XML (which Premiere can read) and provides time code for where text starts and ends on a sequence. Now, if you want to update those text files and you've already cut them into an assembly, there's no way to really do that without either clicking into each text file and updating the text or restarting the process again with your newly assembled text.
Best for: Long segments of interviews or translations. You also need to work with a translator to create an SRT file that has start and end time codes around each bit of text that will render into subtitles. We've made our SRTs through the sister software, Annotation Transcriber. This is what we've relied on for the documentary. Another one is Aegisub.

One new software I've found that does some pretty cool transcribing and subtitling is Trint. Right now it's in beta version. It analyses an mp3 or video to transcribe English with decent accuracy. The interactive transcript lets me quickly find and correct any of the words in the transcript. Also Trint gives you the ability to export the transcript into an SRT file. If you pair Trint with Annotation Edit, you can get full English subtitles in Premiere pretty quickly and painlessly. It costs about $15 / hour of recording.

For each of these, it cuts down on a lot of future work if you have someone dedicated to working through each transcript and file and ensuring things are accurate and structured evenly before they go into Premiere.