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The Open Timeline and Spatial Workflows -- Another Example

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Franz Bieberkopf
The Open Timeline and Spatial Workflows -- Another Example
on Oct 12, 2011 at 5:37:00 am


I had thought about posting this as a follow up (from my own perspective) to the David Lawrence post here:

But it was Gerald Baria who pushed me over the edge here:

[Gerald Baria] "I see a lot of people here having the habit of dumping everything in the timeline and making choices from there, creating the story "as they move along", and I think thats a very messy disorganized way to work."

Okay, so first some background on the kind of work I do.

I primarily do long-form, mostly non-scripted projects with a few shorter pieces thrown into the mix - projects which are a mix of commercial and government financing, for broadcast, theatrical, and other venues. I work primarily in the offline/online model (or cutting room / lab model, if you prefer) and picture general gets finished on niche systems (and sometimes on Avid - never FCP) while sound always gets finished in Pro Tools and mixed in a Pro Tools theatre.

I wanted to make this an addendum to the David Lawrence piece above because I thought I had two additional aspects to describe in my own workflow not covered in David's post: the first being "the sequence as organizational tool" and the second (related to David's post) being "vertical organization of tracks".

I'll start by responding to Gerald's inflammatory post first.

You seem to prize organization as virtue above others for editors (so "messy" and "disorganized" are bad) and it is true that it is a critical, fundamental skill. But I would say that sensitivity (to material, to experience, to ideas) is at least important, to say nothing of creativity. Feeling my way through "as I move along" is important because one can miss strengths in material with a conceptual way of working (especially in unscripted work, but with scripted material too).

(On the other hand, conceptual work has its own strengths.)

Farouki has an interesting film in which he shows photos that the Allies took in flights over occupied Europe during WWII. They had detailed photos of concentration camps - except that Allied intelligence didn't notice or care because they weren't looking for them (this was before they had intelligence about their existence). The lesson is that your intention can blind you to important realities that you aren't looking for.

I think it is wonderful that apple has suddenly become religious (except when it isn't) about metadata. (Here's a thought - timecode is metadata: why are you hiding it from me?) However, I also look on the sudden craze for metadata-as-organizing tool with a bit of suspicion: I can't help but suspect that it is all an elaborate plan to aid people so they don't have to actually watch and listen to material (or at least, not more than once) as they work on it.

All this to say that I'll second Mark Morache with his unease with the "primary storyline". The first steps of editing should not dictate your end. The story of a film (for those that rely on stories) is a result of the editing process, not the starting point. This is true whether the film is scripted or not - "story" is an impression left on the audience and will differ from audience member to audience member. Frankly I'm baffled that I would have to decide the spine at the beginning. Deciding the spine is the process of editing.

I'll state again that I have not tried FCPX, but I do have the thought that in order to try it I'd have to use a slug as my "primary storyline".

All that said - here's my contribution: two key organization techniques that seem to be defeated by X:


So here's my fundamental: I don't work with clips.

Of course, my media comes in as clips and those clips end up in a bin. But i don't much organize them beyond that - as clips. They immediately get put into sequences - all of them, in their entirety. These sequences are broken down according to scene, situation, or location as best suits the material, and are labelled as such, along with "RAW". So when I screen raw material, I'm watching sequences, not clips, and mostly chronological (or sometimes in script order).

Raw sequences are duplicated and selected and further duplicated and edited. This is more or less the process David Lawrence outlined (though he prefers to work in one timeline for reasons he elaborated).

So point one is that I don't really use the viewer / source monitor. I use it for fx and audio work (from the timeline) and matchback sometimes. I point this because I am not much distressed at losing a source monitor if those functions are preserved.

But more, I wanted to bring this up because it hasn't been discussed on these boards - that actually sequences are a way of organizing material.

The current project I'm primarily working on (almost finished assembling) has probably a hundred sequences in it. Another which is almost locked has maybe 6 or 8 times that number (organized in 10 smaller projects). These sequences are organized into bins which separate Raw material from Selected and Marked material from Assemblies from Versions of Cuts and Exports and Sub-Selections etc.

Again I'm a bit baffled at how FCPX would handle my ways.


Organization of tracks changes during the edit and after picture lock.

During the edit, the track organization tells me primarily about sync, and a little bit about function; but primarily I use it as a tool to indicate picture and sound relationships.

I always keep linking off, so I can move any audio or picture at any time.

Tracks are used in Video + Stereo Pairs for the first 3 layers, then additional material, best described by illustration:

The advantage for me is that I understand how material functions and some simple relationships at a glance. It also allows for very fluid movement of material. Occasionally it requires some complex operations during editing. (The magnetic timeline seems to "solve" the problem of complex operations without addressing organization questions - it wants to organize for me, in one way and only one way).

This is a fairly simple timeline. FX and Subtitles would add their own dedicated tracks as would more complex audio. (I can't imagine what FCPX timeline with subtitles would be like to work with - I imagine apple cute screen animation hell - has anyone had experience?) I think this approach to tracks is likely quite common.

After lock, I have the picture tracks reorganized - redundant clips are stripped and the whole thing collapsed to minimum tracks. Then material is separated onto tracks that are helpful to lab - usually by source type or categorized by processes needed to be performed - so for example anything that needed frame rate conversion would be one track. Audio tracks are usually sufficiently organized as is for OMF.

What I think is important to point out from the illustration is that I have no "primary" track - there is nothing against which I am judging placement on a consistent basis. Sometimes it is dialog. Sometimes it is action. Sometimes it is music. Sometimes is voice-over. These things change there pace, placement, and rhythm constantly as the meaning, drive, focus, and structural purpose of a scene changes. The only real constant is time (and so I am back to my idea of a slug as "primary storyline").

BUT ...

But, and this is a point which is fundamentally more important than anything I have said so far, the real flexibility of the "open timeline" (and accompanying project structure) is most apparent when you consider that it allows my approach to working as well as the bin and source monitor approach, as well as, no doubt, many other approaches; to wit it doesn't dictate one method of working, and easily accommodates many ways.

That's a powerful tool.

When you consider that those many ways of working can further be easily translated into other software and maintain their organization, you grasp how powerful it really it.

I will again make that point that apple is the one making claims of revolutionizing - others have responded on these boards that "marketing" seems to be form a speech that shouldn't be thought about critically. I think in fact that one of the best use of these forums has been to examine the claims about new software and hardware, as well as explore the problems and possibilities they pose.

So far, apple has failed to make a convincing case for FCPX.

And as a final note to Gerald Baria - I don't know if you've ever had chance to see picasso or pollock at work; no doubt you would have found them to be messy and disorganized. You may, however, find other ways of evaluating their methods and results.


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