Make a Window Burn Copy

Make a Window Burn Copy

If you want to make notes on your edit, it is best to make them while you're away from your editing system. Creating a window burn allows you to do so.

When you are editing with a computer, it's easy to make changes to scenes. It's so easy that you can overedit a scene, or an entire project, by continually making changes. A friend told me a story that describes the problem perfectly:

Two kindergarten teachers were sitting in the Teachers' Lounge, talking over coffee. One mentioned how much better the other's students' finger paintings always looked than her own students'. She asked what she was doing wrong. The answer was unexpected: "I know when to take the paintings away."

Movie making is part art and part science. I don't mean to knock George Lucas, but how many different versions of Star Wars: Episode IV do we need? He is a good example of an artist who can't let his project go.

So, to overcome the temptation to make changes while you are viewing your project, you can make a copy of your project and view it away from your editing system. The copy should have a visual reference to your project's time-code so that you can make accurate notes. The visual reference is called a window burn, and the copy is referred to as a window dub. Figure shows a frame of video with a timecode window.

A window showing the timecode of 01:30:04;11

The word dub, which is used often in the motion picture industry to mean copy, is short for the word double.

Creating a Dub with a Window Burn

The least time-consuming way to create a VHS dub with a window burn is to output your project to digital videotape and simultaneously copy the image to VHS. This method takes a little more time to set up, but if you are working on a project that is longer than 30 minutes, it is probably worth it. To configure your system to do this requires you only to place your CPU, camera or deck, VHS machine, and finally your TV in order, as shown in Figure.

If you are willing and able to connect your camera or deck to your television, you do not have to dub to VHS. Simply output to digital videotape and play back the cut on a television.

With this configuration, the video signal is going to flow from your computer to your digital video camera (or deck), then to your VHS, and finally to your television. You want the signal to end at your television because you want to make sure the signal has passed through every stage of your setup. If you do not see an image on your television, it means your video signal is not reaching a certain point in the chain and you need to check your connections.

Setup to create a window burn copy from your computer

Some digital video cameras will not pass a video signal coming in digitally and back out analog. If your camera or deck has this restriction, you will have to record to digital videotape and then to VHS.

You will want to turn on your camera's timecode overlay. When you have finished the dub, you will have a digital video dub and a window-burned VHS.

Some editing systems do not write the timecode of the timeline to videotape. Under such circumstances, you might want to output to a black and coded tape [Hack #4] instead. Doing so will make taking and addressing notes easier. For example, if your timeline starts at 01:00:00;00 but your videotape starts at 00: 00:00;00, you will have to keep in mind that there is a one-hour offset to your notes.

Sitting Down, Relaxing, and Taking Some Notes

Once you have made your window dub, take a break from your project for at least a few hours, preferably until the following day. Your goal is to watch your movie as your audience might. You do not want to view it as the Writer, Producer, Director, or Editor.

When you finally sit down to watch your movie, make sure you have a pen and paper so you can take notes. While you are taking notes, you want to reference the timecode on screen. You do not need to be frame accurate; the reference is meant to help you quickly locate where you need to make changes when editing. For example, if you have a note of "00:35:47 - zoom in on candle," you will know to go to 00:35:47 in your project's timeline and add a zoom.

Knowing When to Take It Away

Following the window dub process in this hack will help you stay "at arm's length" from your project. However, the more often you repeat the process, the less you will benefit from it. Every time you watch your movie, you will find something you would like to change. In your opinion, your work will very, very rarely be perfect.

In order to succeed in creating a work of art, and not a swirling mess of paint, you need to limit yourself. You should go through the process only a certain number of times (I recommend two).

Hacking the Hack

If you prefer to watch your movie on your computer, you can create a digital movie with a window burn. Some editing systems provide a video effect that will create a timecode reference in a window. This effect, however, must be rendered on most systems.

To create a digital movie, apply the timecode effect to your timeline, render, and then export the movie to a digital file.

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