I hate to admit it, but I rarely, if ever, stop to read an instruction manual, and I’m guessing that I share this aversion with many of my fellow filmmakers. If we took the time to digest the details of every technology update for every digital tool we interface with, we would never have time to actually take advantage of them. Whether it be a mobile device, a smart toaster, or even a car, I only want to know how to perform the task that is currently in front of me to get from point A to point B. Show me the accelerator, the steering wheel, and the brakes, then off I go. However, technology is constantly evolving and getting more complex, so this approach can sometimes bite you in the ass, and nowhere is that more true than in the area of nonlinear digital editing.
Although my main pursuit over the years has been cinematography, I’ve found it necessary that I also do some editing. Whether to do my own projects or even cut a demo reel, I had to know how to operate an edit system. Final Cut Pro seemed the most intuitive for those of us just trying to do the basics and that served me well for a number of years until Apple decided to do a major overhaul of the platform and announced that they would stop supporting Final Cut 7 in 2011.
In answer to the outcry from traditional Final Cut lovers, the Digital Cinema Society organized an event held at Keycode Media dubbed “Migrating From Final Cut 7” to help folks like me decide where to turn. Offered for comparison were presentations from Avid, Adobe, and Apple, who gave a demo of Final Cut X. Although Avid’s Media Composer was powerful and impressive, it was more than I needed or wanted to learn, and Apple’s Final Cut X was a whole different animal than the Final Cut Pro 7 I had come to love. However, Adobe Premiere, as Goldilocks would say, was “just right”. The user interface seemed very intuitive and quite similar to Final Cut 7, so I wouldn’t feel like I was starting from scratch learning a whole new platform….I’ve been cutting on it ever since.
Even though I could not be classified as a professional Editor, the projects I have been cutting have become ever more complex as the years have gone by. Our DCS events are always covered with at least 2 cameras and usually more, often in RAW or LOG formats, and I have been collaborating with other team members for editing, graphics, and post sound. I’m also gearing up to do my own feature length project which will need to pass today’s strict distribution and deliverable standards. So, it’s about time I started doing things properly, and why I found the Best Practices and Workflow Guide for Long Form and Episodic Post Production such an invaluable resource when my friends at Adobe shared a pre-release draft with me.
It seems like I’m not the only one whose projects have been getting more complicated, and Premiere Pro has been rising to the challenge. Large scale features, once the exclusive domain of Avid, have started to employ Premiere Pro. The platform was chosen by director David Fincher and his post team for Gone Girl, which was shortly followed by hits like Tim Miller’s Deadpool and The Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!. Hundreds of feature motion pictures, streaming series, and documentaries soon adopted the platform including Only the Brave, Dolemite Is My Name, Mindhunter, Terminator: Dark Fate, Mank, and Everything Everywhere All at Once.
However, the transition by so many high-end filmmakers and pro editors didn’t happen without a lot of hand holding. That effort was largely run by a longtime DCS member, Michael Kanfer. Michael is an Academy Award winner for his previous work as a VFX Artist, (he was nominated for Apollo 13 and shared a win for Titanic.) His current role has him as the de facto ambassador for Adobe to the high-end Post community. With the official title Principal Strategic Development Manager for Adobe Film & Video, he has led a team that needed to make sure high-end projects using Premiere Pro went smoothly.
This was no small task given that most Pro Editors were as reluctant to jump into an unfamiliar editing platform as I was when Final Cut 7 was taken away. Add to that the subscription model that Adobe has adopted; while it is great for keeping things up-to-date, it also creates challenges for users to keep up with the frequent software changes. Like me, Pro Editors, along with their Assistants, are loathe to scrutinize the details of every new release.
Now that the number of high-end Premiere Pro users has stretched from the hundreds into the tens of thousands, the Adobe team needed to find a way to scale up their educational outreach. To this end, they decided to create the Premiere Pro Best Practices Guide as a step-by-step template detailing various professional workflows. I’m certainly glad to have it available now, and only wish I had it sooner.
The trouble with my earlier process, only gathering the details needed to get the system to work for the one specific task in front of me, was that it caused me to skip over a lot of basic guidelines to allow smooth operation as things grew more complex. I would drive myself crazy trying to solve a problem that could have easily been avoided if I had just set things up properly from the get go. That, in a nutshell, is the main benefit of this guide. It gives a step-by-step process to put a project on solid footing from the start.
Michael Kanfer uses the analogy of entering a long hallway with many optional doors each leading down another long hallway. If you don’t choose the correct door from the start, you’ll have a very hard time ever getting back on the right path. Post industry icon Leon Silverman coined the phrase “snowflake workflow” because each one is unique and short-lived. While this is true, there are certain perimeters for distinct types of workflows that share common setup requirements.
This guide is thus broken up by chapters including “Proxy Workflows”, “Working with Dailies”, “Multi-Camera Editing”, “Remote & Cloud Workflows”, “Turnovers”, and “Working with Productions”; (Productions being Premiere Pro’s terminology for a framework to organize multi-project workflows and collaboration using shared local storage.) In the sections covering Traditional Offline/Online Workflow, the authors make the point that this is still a vital way of working because even as computer processing speeds have increased by orders of magnitude, the size and complexity of camera files has matched, if not exceeded, that increase. This method allows for smooth playback and timeline performance no matter the format of the master files.
The chapter on Proxy Workflows breaks this down further into traditional Dailies and Proxies that are created within Premiere Pro which offers additional flexibility by allowing the creation of proxies via Ingest Settings. All the media that is imported automatically has proxies created in the background using Adobe Media Encoder. Premiere Pro imports the source camera files, understanding them to be full resolution, then creates and manages its own low resolution proxy media. The chapter entitled “Turnover” details the process of exporting project data and media, (color, sound mix, and VFX,) from Premiere Pro in a format that can be understood by other applications. This is especially important in preparing for a DI at an outside facility. The chapter on Multi-Camera Editing details how to marry files into a single clip, not just for the purpose of cutting between multiple cameras on the fly, but also as the best way to sync audio and video.
Collaborative workflows take up much of the guide because when working with others it is especially important to maintain certain protocols to keep everyone moving forward in concert. There are different settings and workflows depending on how files are shared. In one scenario, editing could be taking place in separate locations with copies of the same project file linking to identical copies of the same media. Editors would then share project files, perhaps over the cloud, in order to stay up to date with each other.
Another method would involve simultaneously accessing the same files with local shared storage working on different parts of the content. By breaking up clips, sequences, and other project items into smaller component projects, any editor can benefit from faster open and save times. They can avoid waiting for the entirety of a large project to load before being able to work on the one section needed. The important thing is to avoid creating duplicate clips, which confuses the system, and to avoid one collaborator accidentally overwriting and destroying the work of another. Following the proper protocols laid out in the Guide will help insure this does not happen.
Perhaps the most critical chapters for me were entitled “Before Getting Started” and “Hardware & Settings.” They covered the kinds of details I foolishly skipped paying attention to in the past. I would then get stuck down the road, and have to interrupt the creative editorial process to search for a solution. I would first try asking those more experienced than myself, like our main DCS Editor, Christopher Knell. However, I couldn’t always reach him in the clutch, and didn’t want to be bothersome to him or other experts.
I would end up scouring the web, sometimes finding outdated information from user forums or well meaning YouTube creators which would further complicate the situation. I have found it is far better to get no advice than to get wrong advice. With this Premiere Pro Best Practices Guide, you can be assured you are getting accurate information directly from Adobe experts which will be updated with each new software release.
The only constant in our industry is change, and Premiere Pro, like every other technology platform will continue to evolve, and that’s a good thing. Another good thing is that the Premiere Pro Best Practices Guide will be available as a living and continually updating web document and I cannot think of a better way to keep current. It’s available free of charge and you can read it now, then re-read the appropriate sections the next time you are setting up a new project in Premiere Pro: