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Re: Bin or Reel - The Debate!

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Franz Bieberkopf
Re: Bin or Reel - The Debate!
on May 14, 2017 at 10:43:12 pm


Thanks for your response. I've thought and written quite a bit after your post so thanks for that, but I'll largely limit this post to Wiseman, Murch, and Editdroid (John Sinclair, Ben Burtt, Ed Burcksen) as you have referenced them. I think they actually open up some of the central tensions of discussion here.


The EditDroid piece you posted largely focuses on the tremendous liberation from physical restrictions that digital NLEs afforded.

Suffice to say that while the physicality of film will continue to be important to some (even as it becomes increasingly rare), for the vast majority the medium will be digital. However, the distinction is informing some of the issues here, and Wiseman might be best on that, if only for raising the idea of craft vs. industrial production:

"There was something artisanal about handling film. Because when you're editing with film, the rolls of films are hanging on the wall. You have to find the roll, you have to thread it up, you run it down, and you look, you look at the sequences preceding or following what you're looking for. And you're thinking about it the whole time."


While not the main focus of the history, The EditDroid piece does discuss how old models - analogs of working with media - were necessary: the controller came from the KEM flatbed, the tracks from a film bench and synchronizer, the source and record monitors come from the KEM or maybe it was video editing. (Were there mixing faders in there?) But things get a bit vague when they talk about the trackball with onscreen "buttons" (or virtual commands) and how unfamiliar that was, and how some the interface was “very much like looking at a computer”.

If you’re interested in NLE history, you may want to have a look at some of David Lawrence’s posts - you can start here:

It’s interesting and related for two reasons: the first being that Lucasfilm had more than one NLE project, and the second is that David’s take on the need for analogs contradicts the above:

“One of the project's big insights was the realization that a physical world metaphor - for example, digitally modeling the physical characteristics of a Steenbeck, as George had done with EditDroid - was unnecessary.”

What I take from this is that new technology will rely both on old familiar models and new ones - it’s not simply one or the other. What might be of interest is where the old ones are important, and where the new ones are necessary.


One thing that is striking about the history of the EditDroid as told in that piece is the assumption of non-linearity. These are film people, accustomed to working in a non-linear fashion where material is available (from bins or reels) to be added to any given moment (distinctly in reels). But digital NLEs radically changed how video editors worked, restricted as they were by master timecode on the destination side. In fact the technology had to be labelled as such - radically different - and therefore "non-linear”; that’s in difference to video models.

Interestingly, as the moviola technology of 20s was replaced by the flatbed technology of the 30s, aspects of linear editing were introduced into film editing. I’ll reference Murch on this further down.

I bring these up because these distinctions again are largely conceptual - you can still work linearly in an NLE if you like and in fact I’ve been confronted by fairly linear sensibilities when working with others - the idea of shots mapped out one by one from beginning to end.

Werner Penzel once told me that when he and co-director Nicolas Humbert were cutting Step Across The Border (1990), they kept coming up against frustration - not getting the film they wanted. It was only when they sort of threw away their plans and started at the beginning, choosing one piece after another, that the film came together. I’d call that something of a linear process. They describe the filmmaking this way on the DVD, perhaps referencing that kind of linear basis for the edit:

“Music and film come into existence out of an intense perception of the moment, not from the transformation of a preordained plan.”

(I love that film; essential viewing if you’re a fan of Fred Frith, John Zorn, Iva Bittová, et al), first part here:


The main virtue Sinclair, Burtt, and Burcksen focus on is speed, or maybe it’s better described as the elimination of “wasted time”. Burcksen cites the speed contest between the EditDroid and KEM editors (though no frame of judgement is given except that it was "4 or 5 shots", if memory serves), and also says "With film material, you just don't try things out because it take up so much time." while Burtt says, “I was able to spend my time editing, not hunting and searching for things.”, repeating later that “hunting and searching” for footage was eliminated.

This idea that editing is a specific thing that happens when you’re not searching or otherwise wasting time seems to be shared by you when you speak of Wiseman using an Avid:
[Joe Marler] "He is philosophical about whether it speeds up the overall process, but in no interview has he analytically evaluated this. … If he can find content faster using Avid, then *something* is being sped up, and he's productively spending that time elsewhere."

But I’m more inclined to trust Wiseman on his on practice here - I don’t dismiss him:

””I regret not being able to work on film, because I like editing film," he says. "It's impossible now. The labs don't exist. It theoretically costs more money—but I'm not really sure it does."
"I find myself forcing myself to take the time to think," he says. "That's why this takes so much time. The fact that you can make changes more quickly on Avid isn't necessarily a good thing."

“ … I don’t think that that kind of speed and accessibility on the Avid is necessarily a good thing. Because when I had all the film rushes hanging on hooks on the wall it took more time. I had to find the film roll, put it on the Steenbeck, and roll down to the shot that I was looking for. But that wasn’t wasted time. First of all I was reviewing material, and second of all, I was thinking about why I was looking for what I was looking for."

Your Edgar Burcksen bit misses the mark on the original Wiseman idea that you address it to, I think. Wiseman was saying in essence that it takes time to think about editing - he gives one example of that happening in the shower. In fact, Burcksen supports him in this idea, but in the process dismisses Murch:
"An editor like Walter Murch said that he always got the best ideas when he was winding up the film material. If they ask me if I think film is better in that way, I'd say that is metaphysical b.s. Because that has nothing to do with this profession. When you are winding up a reel and you get this great idea, you could get the same idea on the way to the bathroom.”

This moment here - Burcksen’s statement - gets to the crux of my post.


It's unclear what statement from Murch that Burcksen is referencing, but here is probably the best known articulation:

"... the advantage of the KEM's linear system is that I do not always have to be speaking to it - there are times when it speaks to me. … I might say, "I want to see that close-up of Teresa, number 317 in roll 45." But I'll put that roll on the machine, and as I spool down to number 317 (which may be hundreds of feet from the start), the machine shows me everything at high speed down to that point … and I find, more often than not, long before I get down to shot 317, that I've had three other ideas triggered by the material that I have seen flashing by me."
- Walter Murch, In The Blink Of An Eye, p.46

(Note the use of linear storage for source material.) Further he elaborates by comparison:

"The big selling point of any non-linear system, however is precisely its non-linearity. …but that's actually something of a drawback because the machine gives me only what I ask for, and I don't' always want to go where I say I want to go. Wanting something just give me the starting point. I expect the material itself to tell me what to do next."
- Walter Murch, In The Blink Of An Eye, p.109

That relationship to the material, the idea that “the material itself’ can guide the process in some way, is a central idea to Murch’s approach to editing. (It relates to Penzel and Humbert above, too.) We could think of this as a sensitivity to “bottom up” ways of working in opposition to conceptual “top down” approaches. Of course, Murch sees value in both.

On the question of time, he talks linear vs. non-linear, but of course it's about value not just speed:

“A system that is too linear (which means that you have to spend too much time searching before you find what you want) would be burdensome. You would quickly become overwhelmed and/or bored with it. So there is a golden mean somewhere. if the system is completely random-access, that is a defect in my opinion. But if it is too linear, that's a defect as well. …
- Walter Murch, In The Blink Of An Eye, p.48

Thinking about this in terms of “browser-based” vs. “sequence-based” approaches, Murch describes his own browser-based editing:
“Random-access systems are highly dependent on the quality of the notes made at the material's first viewing, because those notes are the key to unlocking and searching the vast library of material for each film. They necessarily reflect not only the note-taker's initial opinions about the material but also about the film itself, as it is conceived at that time.”
- Walter Murch, In The Blink Of An Eye, p.107

He’s speaking of his own note and database driven approach to logging, but it’s clear that this thought applies to categorizing, labeling, tagging, or otherwise conceptually organizing material. Crucially, he goes on from this thought to emphasize that this cataloguing has the danger of calcifying and becoming a hindrance to editing, and that material needs "constant review" so that it can be discovered in a fresh way, and how the demands of the way he organized physical film had the unavoidable effect of forcing a "constant review" (the "thinking while rewinding" moment, or the "responding while fast-forwarding" moment as it is perhaps more properly described).

All of this circles back on his “ideas while rewinding” quote - derided by Burcksen who implies that Murch has claimed "film is better in that way”, and that ideas can come at any time, not just while rewinding. Ultimately, Murch is talking about a relationship to the material. If we use words, phrases, identifiers, codes to categorize material, the danger is that the material becomes thought of in those terms and nothing else. Seeing and hearing the material is a direct experience, and an editor should be open to that experience. If you've ever ended up using a shot or bit of sound against your first instincts, or as the result of an accident then you understand what this means - ideas from a direct experience of the material ("bottom up"). He’s talking about the value of systems which are always holding the material in relationship to other material, and therefor putting the material before you in a way that is at least as important as, if not more important than, our conceptual relationship to it. While I’m sure Murch has had his share of ideas in the shower, or “on the way to the bathroom”, and always went into films with conceptual frameworks and ideas (“top down”), he is speaking of something specific here which seems to have eluded Burcksen.

I'd say that is the primary value of sequenced based systems (though not the only one).


I don't understand your final statements on Wiseman.
[Joe Marler] "Of *course* he just collects sequences. That's all his software can do."

First I don’t know what software you are referring to. He'sused Avid since 2009, and you seem to imply that Avid can only “collect sequences”, so I don't understand what you mean by that. Second, I think you've conflated his method of shooting (which he describes as "collecting sequences") with editing.

And your final statement:

[Joe Marler] " We're now 33 years past EditDroid, and computers can do a lot more to assist than just mimicking tracks of film and mag tape."

Of course, the implication in your statements is that I “rigidly hold” to an old way which simply "mimics tracks of film and mag tape". I'm not sure why you would think that, so I’m interested to know what you are basing your opinion on or what you really mean when you talk about sequence-based editing, since you are clearly not talking about how I work.

As a final point on this, I think it's really important to point out that the two broad categories of organization are just that - broad. While I think I share many priorities and approaches with Murch, there are many differences. (We also share "browser based" methods such as the ubiquitous index cards, but have differences there too). And while the "pancake method' is a good example of a simple sequence-based approach, I don't use that method (or very rarely).

Sequence-based methods will vary at least as much as browser based methods (and I think probably more).


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