Successfully Complete a Project

Successfully Complete a Project

Following a series of steps enables you to successfully complete a project, in the least amount of time and at the least expense .

When it comes to completing a project, post-production is often an area of trouble for people. Getting a project through the editing process can be challenging. It can be difficult because of a lack of experience and/or knowledge, a feeling of intimidation by the technical jargon and equipment, or simply burning out in the final phase of a project. Fortunately, an easy-to-follow process can help you get through it.

This hack is meant to be a quick hit list of steps you should follow at the very least. Cross-references to other hacks are for your use as you see fit. I've witnessed people (professionals, no less) needlessly spend tens of thousands of dollars because they didn't follow these guidelines in order .

Labeling Your Media

Putting labels on your tapes is a no-brainer. But how you number your physical media [Hack #3] can make a world of difference in post-production. A simple numbering mistake early on can translate into having to renumber your entire library or reedit a project because the numbers are cut off by creating an edit decision list (EDL).

Avoid the pain and follow a couple simple rules:

  • Don't duplicate numbers.

  • Keep the labels simple.

You can get creative with your labeling, but don't go overboard. If you create a system that people have to repeatedly ask questions about, you're costing yourself time and effort. Simply put, do it right the first time and put a little thought into it.

Tracking Your Media

Keep a running tally of your media. You should be able to reference something to know what your tape numbers are and what they contain. Whether you use a database, a spreadsheet, or a notebook is up to you.

If you don't know what, or how many, tapes you have, you'll never know if you're missing footage. If you number your tapes before you shoot on them, you should enter additional information into your tracking system after you've shot on them. Just having tapes with numbers on them isn't enough.

Logging Your Media

If you don't know what's on your tapes, how are you going to find the footage you need? There are a number of ways to log your footage, from taking simple notes on a piece of paper, to using a spreadsheet [Hack #5], using a third-party application, and even using your editing application.

However you log your footage, you should always be aware of one thing: regenerating timecode . This occurs when your timecode jumps backward in time and is troublesome for editing systems. If you come across regenerating timecode, you should create a digital clone of the tape [Hack #48], with new and continuous timecode.

Making a Paper Cut

A paper cut equates to your edited video on paper. Before you start editing, you should have a clear idea of what footage you are going to use and where that footage is located. You can use a two-column script [Hack #7] to create your paper cut, which will greatly help with the process.

If you are working on a scripted project, such as a dramatic movie, you should have lined script [Hack #11]. If you don't have a lined script, you will probably want to watch your footage and take notes on the script. Your notes should include the tape number and timecode for the various scenes, at the very least.

Creating an Offline Cut

Your offline cut, also known simply as offline , is essentially where you start to edit. In offline, you will assemble your story and gather all of the necessary elements to tell it. This is where you should know what footage, sound effects, graphics, and other elements are missing, and be able to determine whether or not there is a way around the problems. During offline, you shouldn't worry about mixing your audio unless it's absolutely necessary.

You should use your paper cut or lined script as a guideline to creating your timeline. However, you should be familiar with your footage (and use your logs!) to fill in where your paper cut or lined script is lacking. Remember, what is on paper will more than likely not translate in the editing room.

Create backups of your project often [Hack #2]; otherwise, you may discover you've lost days, weeks, or months worth of work. Additionally, when you have completed a cut, you should output a reference copy [Hack #75] so you can make notes away from the editing system.

Locking Your Offline Cut

When you have determined you are happy with your offline cut, you should stop editing, back up, and output a reference copy. Your reference copy is not for making more notes! At this point, you should not have any temporary video elements and be ready to accept your story as it is. You should not make any video changes from this point forward.

Onlining Your Locked Offline Cut

If you have been editing in a low-resolution, such as OfflineRT on Final Cut or 10:1 on Avid, you are going to need to redigitize your footage at an uncompressed resolution. When redigitizing, you should make sure you have at least 15 frame handles as a safety net, in case there are problems you didn't see in offline. After you have transferred all of your uncompressed footage, you should digitize in your locked offline reference cut .

Place the reference cut on the top layer of video in your timeline. You then want to make sure your online matches your offline. Here are a couple of approaches you can take:


You can crop the reference cut about 50%, either horizontally or vertically, so you can see the online cut at the same time. When you play your timeline, you'll be able to see if any of the footage doesn't match. If it doesn't, you'll notice because the full image on screen will be split.


If you just want to spot check your online, you can simply jump to various sections of your timeline and toggle the visibility of the reference cut. This will allow you to see the full-screen image of the reference cut and then the online cut. Although this method won't always alert you to minor differences, such as a one-frame difference, it will alert you of any major problems.

After you determine your online cut is correct, you should output it to a new piece of tape. This tape is your online master. Keep it safe and be proud; you've made it farther than most people ever will.

Color-Correcting and Mixing

The final two steps can be completed on the same system or, if you can afford to hire a colorist or an audio mixer, on different systems. If you will be working on different systems, you should know what types of files are expected, especially for your audio suite. You will also need to know how you will get both signals (your audio and your video) back out to tape in sync. In other words, what application is going to be used and what are its requirements?

Color-correcting your online master.

Yes, believe it or not, you shouldn't color-correct until after you have your online master completed. The reason is simple enough: if you make a mistake, you can easily undo it. Plus, you will always have a master tape you can fall back on.

If you are color-correcting using the same system and application that you have used to online your footage, you can proceed to color-correct using the same timeline. Before you color-correct, make sure you back up your online version of the timeline first!

If you are going to be using a different system to color-correct, you should export an EDL or a copy of the timeline (depending on the system you'll be using). The EDL or timeline will provide a reference to where the cuts occur in your video. This will make the job of color-correcting much easier.

When you have finished color-correcting, you should output to yet another piece of videotape. This tape is your color-corrected master. Things are looking good!

Mixing your audio.

The final step is to work with your audio. Every time I work with audio, it absolutely amazes me how much a simple tweak, such as removing the hum [Hack #56], can make a scene come to life. When working with audio, make sure you have a good set of external speakers, so you can clearly hear what is there.

If you have done the color-correction and audio mix using the same application, you can simply output. If you have used different applications, you have two options, based on the capabilities of your audio-mixing system.

If the system is capable of outputting audio-only to videotape, while not affecting the video, you can layback the audio directly to your color-corrected master. This means that you can use the same tape that is your color-corrected master, and place your final mixed audio onto it. By doing so, you know which physical tape is your final master tape.

If the system cannot layback audio-only, you should output your mixed audio at the highest quality possible to an audio file. After you have the mixed audio as an audio file, you should import it into your video-editing application. After importing it, you should place your audio file onto your timeline and sync it with the video. After it's in sync, you simply need to output.

That's it! You're done.

Putting It to Work

It is a lot of work to complete a project. If you can solve problems early in the process, then you can avoid problems later. After completing a few projects, you'll discover that the later you discover a problem, the more difficult and expensive it is to fix. By following the guidelines in this hack, you can save yourself a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of frustration, and a lot of money.

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