by Stephanie Argy for The
Motion Picture Editors Guild Magazine
High" — a medium-budget comedy, is one
of the first studio features to be shot on 24P video,
using the Panavision/Sony 24P camera. The picture features
rap stars Method Man and Redman playing themselves and
was directed by Jesse Dylan (Bob Dylan’s son). In this
interview, editor Larry Bock and assistant editor Erik
C. Andersen cover their experience editing the show: why
it was produced this way, what it was like to work with
the new medium and how it affected the post-production
|For a preview, the production installed a high-definition projector in the theater balcony. Standing: Robert Jacobs, tape operator from Video Applications, which provided the projector; Andersen; Bock; John Haley, audio engineer, Video Applications. Seated: John Woo, assistant editor; Keith R. Brown, editorial production assistant; Daniel O’Keeffe, projection engineer at Universal.
How did you prepare to work in this new medium?
Bock: I first called my friend Michael Alberts,
who recently finished cutting a low-budget film called Nicolas,
the first feature shot with the Panavision/Sony 24P high-def
camera. He walked me through the process and alerted me to
certain problems we might expect. Then I called Erik, whose
technological knowledge spans a wide spectrum of different
areas in post.
Andersen: I read everything available on
24P, including the articles in the Guild Magazine. I also
spoke to a couple of assistant editors who had worked with
Bock: We also attended the camera and sound
tests for How High at Panavision. I was worried because it
seemed like there were so many opportunities for something
to go wrong with sync or timecode. But things went very smoothly,
thanks to the efforts of the film crew and my team.
What were some of the advantages and disadvantages
of working this way?
Creatively, working in hi-def was
no different than working on a film show. In general,
I was quite surprised at how much the show looked like
it had been shot on film.
Andersen: Director Jesse Dylan and director
of photography Francis Kenny had to contend with the fact
that the Panavision camera didn’t have a full set of
lenses. [At the time How High was shot, there were three zooms
and one prime available; as of this writing, there are four
zooms and five primes.] The camera cannot be under- or over-cranked,
and it has contrast problems in bright sunlight and signal-to-noise
issues in low light. The viewfinder is black and white, with
very low image quality, but there is a color HD monitor on
hand to check focus, lighting and actors’ performances.
I was very impressed with the image quality on the monitor.
What you see is what you get. One big advantage to using the
24P camera is that HDCAM tapes last 50 minutes (at 24 frames
per second), much longer than film magazines, so the DP was
able to keep the camera rolling between takes and change magazines
less often. Production thought this saved roughly an hour
a day and allowed for more setups, but it meant that we were
getting a lot of unslated material that had to be sorted out
in the cutting room.
Were any other high-definition cameras considered?
Andersen: They looked at the Panasonic AJ-HDC27A
720P DVCPRO HD camcorder, which has variable speeds of 3,
6, 12, 24, and 72 frames per second, but they were concerned
about mixing 720P images with the 1080P material produced
by the Panavision/Sony camera. It would have also have meant
a second camera package rental and a new set of lenses for
How did shooting on 24P affect your interaction
with the crew?
Bock: For me it was the same as always —
no different than shooting on film.
Andersen: I talked to the sound and camera department daily.
One issue was pre-roll. The 24P camera records time-of-day
code, which means there is a timecode break between each take.
There were many times I was unable to digitize a slate because
I only had a second of timecode before the director yelled,
“Action.” I needed ten seconds of code and often
didn’t get it.
What was the workflow from the set to the editing
Andersen: Hollywood Digital downconverted
the HDCAM masters to Beta SP. They transferred the full 16:9
image letterboxed and added two timecode windows in the matte
area: 29.97 timecode from the beta, and 24P (23.976) timecode
from the master. The Beta was digitized into the Avid and
we used audio from the Beta.
Did you record audio on DAT as well as video?
Andersen: Yes. Cameron Hamza, our sound
mixer, hard-wired audio to the camera via 300 feet of specially-built
cable. The sound went from the microphone to the mixing panel;
then four tracks ran out of the mixer: two to the camera and
two to a Fostex PD-2 DAT.
On 35mm, the camera, sound and video playback departments
work independently, but with the 24P camera, they are hardwired
together with sound, video and timecode cables. We added two
additional people to the film crew, a hi-def engineer and
an extra sound assistant to wrangle all the cable.
|We received an average
of three-and-a-half hours of material a day. Because there’s
no telecine, one big change for the assistants was that
we had to log the footage ourselves.
One issue was how to record sound so that camera and DAT
timecode would match. Production used an Evertz Afterburner,
which produces a downconverted image and also converts the
camera’s 23.976 timecode to 29.97, which was recorded
on the DAT. Cameron Hamza used the Fostex DAT because it was
one of the only field recorders that could lock to an external
video sync pulse, which came from the Evertz. We thought about
recording audio timecode at 23.976 but decided not to risk
incompatibilities with post-production gear. The Afterburner
has a processing time of about five frames. So our DAT timecode
had a consistent offset relative to video, which was easy
for the sound department to fix in post.
As a test, I digitized from the DAT, then synced in the Avid
via the slate. After accounting for the five-frame offset,
I found an additional one-frame audio advance. We discovered
that video processing in the camera delays the image by a
frame as it is being recorded. The camera is actually out
of sync with itself! To address this, Hollywood Digital delayed
the sound by a frame when they downconverted our dailies to
Beta SP for cutting.
How did cutting room procedures differ from
those on a film show?
Bock: Since we didn’t have to wait
for negative to be processed, Erik was able to digitize the
footage and I was able to cut the scenes within 24 hours from
the time they were shot. On film, we would have been one or
two days behind camera. John Woo was the second assistant
editor, and Jessica Caggiano was our apprentice. After principal
photography we let go of the apprentice. It was the smallest
crew I ever had on a feature.
Andersen: Because there’s no telecine,
one big change for the assistants was that we had to log the
footage ourselves. We used Avid MediaLog hooked up to a Beta
SP deck. John logged everything; in case the director asked
for a non-circled take, I could load it immediately. John
would log the first tape, start the Avid batch digitizing
and then go back and continue logging. We tried to keep digitizing
non-stop, while Larry and I viewed half-inch dailies in another
room on a projection TV. We didn’t actually see the
high-def footage projected until we started onlining for previews.
Bock: Normally I would be sitting next to
the director in a screening room getting some notes and a
sense of what he had in mind. We didn’t do that on this
show. Jesse looked at dailies on VHS in a trailer. We never
looked at the HD material projected and we never sat in a
projection room in a group situation. For me, that was very
different than previous experiences.
How did the experience differ for you creatively?
Bock: Creatively, working in hi-def was
no different than working on a film show.
Were there any problems with the Avid? Things
you wish the system would do?
Bock: We knew going into this film that
the Avid was the only system that could handle the workload
and the amount of temp effects we needed. It was also the
only system that would handle the 24P issues.
Andersen: We used a Windows NT Avid Symphony,
which belonged to the production company, Jersey Films, as
well as a Mac-based Meridian Film Composer from Runway, and
tied them together with Unity storage.
Due to the fact we had a 2 GB project with over 600 files,
the system took a long time to auto-save and redraw the bins
towards the end of the show. It took an hour to back-up on
a DVD-RAM disk each night. I would like to see Avid design
an automated backup utility that would work in the background.
What were the financial implications of shooting
Andersen: The 24P cameras rent for double the price of a
35mm camera, but the cost of HDCAM tape is considerably less
than 35mm film, developing and printing. The high definition
on-line and color correction bays we used for previews and
final cut cost hundreds of dollars per hour, but as more shows
shoot in HD, those prices will drop. But even with all the
unexpected expenses and the tests we did, the budget for HD
post-production was still comparable to a traditional film
Did you receive more footage than you would
have on a film project?
Bock: Jesse kept the camera rolling to make
sure he captured the most comical moments. We received an
average of three-and-a-half hours of material a day. By the
end of principal photography, we had the equivalent of over
750,000 feet of film.
Andersen: By the end of the show we had
a total of about 400 gigabytes of storage, with our dailies
digitized at 14:1. That’s 75 hours of material for a
Did 24P make a difference in how you dealt
with visual effects?
Andersen: Larry put me in charge of creating
all the temp effects and I tried things that we would never
have done had we been working on film. Some of those effects
were then recreated during our on-line sessions. For instance,
we had a shot of an exploding pigeon where the wire was visible.
All we did was paint the wire out, frame by frame. It took
20 minutes and probably saved the production a lot of money.
In another situation, we needed the character Baby Wipe to
walk into a shot. Larry and I looked through all the takes,
but the other character in the scene, Baby Powder, had his
funniest moments while Baby Wipe was still completely out
of frame. Then I suggested that we do a split screen, with
Baby Wipe’s half of the frame coming from later in the
take than Baby Powder’s side. I did a quick composite
on the Avid, and it looked great
How did you online?
Andersen: With the Windows NT Avid Symphony,
we could have on-lined the show in NTSC, not hi-def. We would
have needed a lot of extra storage to reload the selected
material and assemble it uncompressed, so for the projected
screenings of the editor’s and director’s cuts
we decided to just output the 14:1 compressed image. For our
previews, we on-lined using a Fire at Hollywood Digital. The
Fire is an uncompressed HD non-linear editing and finishing
system made by Discreet. We used it to digitize our HDCAM
master tapes, which were then auto- conformed to our EDL,
laid back onto HDCAM tape and color-corrected. One big issue
with the Fire and with a linear HD online, as well, is that
if your effects can’t be described in an EDL, you have
to rebuild them in online by hand. After the online, I loaded
the finalized Fire effects back into the Avid and cut them
in, so that we wouldn’t have to create them again for
How did you preview?
Andersen: We had three previews, projecting
HD using a Panasonic PT 9600U, 1280 x 1024 projector.
Bock: Getting ready for previews
was very time-consuming, because we had to on-line, color-correct,
layback audio to each reel, then tie the film together to
make one HD master for screening. But I was surprised by how
clean and bright the picture looked when I first saw it projected
in high-def. Back when I cut on film, we would preview the
print with thousands of splices in it. Then I started cutting
on non-linear machines, and the assistants would conform the
work print. I thought the film looked a lot better, because
it was not being handled as much and had less splices and
dirt. Now with high-def, we get to project a spliceless print
that has been color-corrected. Although I still prefer the
look of a movie shot on film, I was pleasantly surprised that
the image didn’t have a pronounced video feel to it.
But I was worried about how we would handle the changes from
one preview version to the next.
Andersen: The Fire editor recommended archiving
our first preview on D5 tape, then loading it back into the
Fire. He conformed the first preview to the new cut on his
own — we didn’t load any of the onlines into the
Avid. We did this for all three previews. The previews gave
us our first audience reaction to the 24P image. No one in
the audiences noticed that the movie hadn’t been shot
on film, and in fact, there were compliments about how nice
Will this film be blown-up to 35mm for release?
Andersen: The movie won’t
be projected digitally — it’s a film-only release.
E-Film did our scan to negative, and Deluxe is doing our prints.
Since it cost several dollars per frame to scan the 24P to
film, we did a variety of color tests on selected scenes.
Our first test was printed on Kodak Vision Print Film 2383.
It showed us that we needed a little more contrast in the
blacks — the image looked a little flat. For our second
test we printed the same negative on 2393 and found that it
had more grain and less definition, but the shadows blocked
up. So we went back to our color-corrected masters from the
first two previews (which had been color-corrected differently),
pulled two new scenes, scanned them to 2383 and made a new
film print. We discovered we needed to color correct for the
film transfer, not for HD projection, and that took care of
most of our problems. Each projector is different and we found
that, during previews, trying to compensate was pretty frustrating.
Bock: Because we were color-correcting on
tape, we were able to use power windows, soft clipping, and
keying, which wouldn’t be available on film. But I was
worried about what would happen to all that work when the
show was scanned to film. In general, I was quite surprised
at how much it looked like it had been shot on film.
Were expectations different from what they
would have been on a film project? Were you expected to work
Bock: They always expect you to work faster.
I don’t think shooting with the 24P hi-def cameras has
Overall, was the experience a good one? Would
you want to do it again?
Bock: For me, the experience was good. A
couple of aspects of the 24P process did create extra work.
Jesse asked me to look at everything he shot, including uncircled
takes — three to four hours of footage every day, which
meant I had less time to edit. I guess I would still prefer
to work on projects that are shot on film, but it seems like
high-def might become a common medium for features. The answer
prints I’ve seen looked good. Maybe not as good as film,
but for a comedy like this, I don’t think the audience
will ever know how we shot it.
Andersen: With technology advancing so quickly,
the image will only get better. I consider myself very lucky
to have worked with Larry on the first HD feature for Universal,
and I look forward to doing it again.