101 Reasons To Insist On An Assistant

For Class #5

 Instructor: Norman Hollyn T.A.: Beth Moody
 Office: 310-821-2792 Phone: 323-472-1164

 E-Mail: nhollyn [at] cinema.usc.edu

E-Mail: elizabethmoody [at] gmail.com

What are the important organizational tasks that must be performed in an editing room, besides synching dailies and the like? The following article by Pam Malouf sets out many of the tasks that assistant editors perform on a typical Avid film. Whether these taks are performed by an assistant, by the editor or by the director who is editing his or her own film, most of them need to be done.


101 Reasons to Insist on an Assistant

by Pam Malouf

In this day and age of digital editing, when an assistant film editor doesn't have the obvious trims to put away, it is easy for their invaluable work to go unnoticed by producers and studio heads. Magnifying the problem are fellow film editors - perhaps fearful of losing their jobs or maybe looking for a nominal pay increase - who accept jobs on TV series and pilots without an assistant, thereby setting horrendous precedents. It is no longer uncommon for me, a TV editor, to have to fight for my assistant; in fact, I've lost several jobs because of it. More and more I'm hearing how "so and so" cut the series last year without an assistant, or that the post-production facility will digitize the dailies, so why do I need an assistant?

Let me share a recent experience in the hopes of encouraging and empowering all film editors to insist on having an assistant editor.

I accepted a union job on a TV pilot, for which I was told I would have an assistant. In no way did my over-scale rate ($3,000 for a 56-hour week) reflect that I would be required to work without one. After my first day, however, I was told that the studio didn't know why I needed an assistant and that they would only approve one for five days out of the five-week project! It was difficult not to buckle under the studio's pressure and intimidation, but I insisted on the importance of my assistant. I was told that if I could explain my assistant's value, in writing, the producers would listen. I would also need to provide them with some specific examples of why I needed an assistant on particular days.

Though I was appalled that a major studio would subject me to this task, I forced myself to adopt a positive attitude. I approached my explanation from the standpoint that the studio and producers truly did not understand what my assistant did, or how we could both work with only one editing machine. So, in the spirit of education, I created a list of assistant editor functions. I also supplied them with a few scenarios in which having an assistant will save them money. Following are the points and examples I used.

Assistant Editor Functions:

During Dailies:

1) Create Avid project: input data, film vs. tape, set parameters, etc.

2) Create Act and Scene bins in the Avid.

3) Digitize dailies. This takes at least one and one-quarter real time. Note: If dailies are digitized at a post house, assistant must still "copy" them into the Avid.

4) Prepare Flexfile: enter scene numbers, takes, sound and camera-roll information (normally done in telecine, but not always).

5) Sort dailies by Act and Scene number.

6) Coordinate completion and receipt of dailies.

7) Correct log file or Flexfile database daily using Vantage program.

8) Check dailies received against script, camera and sound log.

9) Order missing dailies that should have been printed.

10) Communicate with lab regarding any negative damage, flaws, etc.

11) Verify that all digitized takes begin on an A-frame.

12) Redigitize (try and fix) dailies that did not come in on an A-frame.

13) Check that key numbers on the telecine paperwork match video burn-ins on tape.

14) Check film slate and camera against telecine log entries.

15) Group dailies for multi-camera projects.

16) Communicate with telecine house regarding sound, timecode or A-frame problems.

17) Coordinate transfer of problem material between.

18) Arrange retransfer of dailies as needed due to bad timecode, glitches, incorrect Keyscope log, etc.

19) Integrate lined script into editor's notebook and file copies.

Example #1

It's the first day of editing, and dailies, digitized at a post house, arrived on two 9-Gig drives. To save the producers money I had only the assistant work this day. However, I was questioned: "Was your assistant necessary? Why couldn't you have just started alone and immediately begun editing?" Had the assistant not worked, I would have lost an entire day of editing.

Here's a bit of what my assistant did that day:

* Redigitize two of the dailies reels because the media would not link.

* Redigitize two takes that came in on a B-frame (confirming that the post house did not check its work).

* Manually enter scene, take and camera-roll information in the Flexfile, since it was not done by the video transfer house. This information is necessary so that I know what scenes I need to cut and we can output a negative cut list later on.

* Group the multi-camera takes for multi-camera editing.

* Create bins on the Avid and sort all of the digital images.

* Troubleshoot. While setting up the project and our parameters on the Avid, checking the hardware, sound mixer, etc., my assistant discovered that the system was set up for a 30-frame show at 44.1 kHz. The material was digitized for a 24-frame show at 48 kHz. Editors would normally not know how to solve this problem, but it was taken care of by my assistant. In addition, upon checking dailies, the assistant discovered key number discrepancies between the burn-in and the Flexfile that would have to be sorted out before a negative cut list could be generated.

While Editor Is Cutting

20) Write up a show continuity.

21) Time the cut scenes for continuity purposes.

22) Load B-neg, corrected dailies, etc., into Avid.

23) Reload dailies into Avid, per director, for temporary color correction.

24) Verify accuracy of secondary timecode numbers from Keyscope log against digitized dailies (split shift).

25) Correct any discrepancies found in secondary list (split shift).

26) Check key number entries in Keyscope log (neg-cut show only) and correct any discrepancies.

27) Check online numbers entered in Keyscope log (split shift).

28) Copy and file telecine logs, sound reports and camera reports.

29) Keep track of production stock shots and create a library.

30) Handle all calls or needs from production.

31) Contact various film stock libraries and locate stock shots as necessary.

32) Arrange transportation and delivery of new stock.

33) View stock, select prints and arrange transfer to video.

34) Load stock footage into Avid (split shift).

35) Call Avid technical support as necessary.

36) Deal with the equipment rental company regarding any Avid problems. Coordinate service calls and supervise technicians to make sure problems are correctly fixed (split shift).

37) Perform general weekly maintenance of Avid: run Norton Disk Doctor, clean mouse, etc. (split shift).

38) Guarantee accurate audio interface with weekly procedure, as recommended by Avid (split shift).

39) Coordinate screenings with associate producer.

40) Book screening rooms.

41) Prepare any tape sections for Insert shooting.

42) Create temp titles on the Avid (split shift).

43) Prepare and oversee any tape cuts for use on set as playback.

44) Take notes at all screenings.

45) Make final list, including footages, of stock shots used in show (split shift).

46) Negotiate price for stock footage (depends on production company) and report to post production.

47) If cutting neg, order dupe negative of all stock shots.

48) Order new neg-to-tape transfer of all stock shots for master (neg-cut or online).

Example #2

I was asked why, on a lock or online day, when I was working primarily with the producers, did I need an assistant?

Especially on a pilot, the editor will be working with the producers and/or director until the last possible minute on final changes. This would normally mean at least a 12-hour day. Once we are locked, several hours would then be needed to output the show for online/check purposes and to create an accurate online list, printed and on disk. Even if it only took three hours, this would equal over $300 in editor overtime, not counting time lost due to answering phone calls - more than enough money for the assistant's salary. If an editor were required to load all extra sound effects and music, perform Avid color corrections and list checking, answer phones, etc., then several days a week might be 16-hour days. Just three 16-hour days in one week would be over $1,275 in editor overtime, more than an entire week's pay for a qualified assistant.

49) Update continuity as show changes in length and scene order.

50) Keep accurate show and Act timings.

51) Order and coordinate delivery of half-inch dubs of cuts and completed shows for network and studio screenings.

52) Back-up all show information onto disks daily and weekly (split shift).

53) Keep loop and dub notes of special sound effects per director, editor and producers.

54) Type and distribute all memos generated from cutting room.

55) Record and load temp wild tracks (split shift).

56) Deal with all on-air promo requests and requirements.

57) Deal with all producer requests for clips or information.

58) Black and code tapes as needed.

59) Answer phones. This can save two or more hours per day of the editor's time, including mental time for the editor to get "back into the scene."

Example #3

After a Wednesday preshoot, we were scheduled to get dailies the following morning. I needed to have them cut and ready for playback in front of a live audience at 7 p.m. that same evening. The producers didn't think I needed an assistant on this day!

Since the daily transfer was starting at 6 a.m., the first daily tape can be ready for an assistant to start digitizing by 7 a.m. Even if the dailies have not arrived by then, several multi-camera scenes are being shot, so there will be a lot of camera notes which need to be studied in preparation for the arrival of dailies. Digitizing takes one and one-quarter real time, then the digital images must be sorted and checked, so the assistant has to stay on top of it and start early.

Hopefully, the final dailies tape will arrive by 11 a.m., meaning the editor can be cutting by 1 p.m. or sooner. The editor would need to start cutting as fast as possible to have an acceptable cut, with director changes made, on the set by 7 p.m. The editor will then stay and watch the show taping (although it is scheduled to end at 11 p.m., an educated guess is that it will go until 1 a.m.). Were the editor to do the assistant's job in addition to their own, the 7 a.m.-to-1 a.m. workday would equal six hours of gold overtime, a cost of $642.00. This money alone would pay over two and a half days of the assistant's salary.

I highly recommend bringing the assistant in for this job and having the editor delay their start until noon. Normally, an editor starting at noon under these circumstances would not bother to put in for the hour or so of overtime when the shoot runs long. Therefore the producers would reap additional financial savings.

60) Label videotapes. File and label disks.

61) Call music stores to find music requested by editor, director or producers.

62) Arrange delivery of music requests.

63) Order temp sound effects from sound effects editors.

64) Coordinate sound effects and music spots with associate producer.

65) Get coffee and coordinate lunches for directors, producers and editor, as necessary.

66) Order clones of dailies for CGI shots as necessary.

67) Coordinate CGI shots with computer effects house, providing exact counts for shots as necessary.

68) Load temp sound effects (split shift).

69) Load temp music (split shift).

70) Make temp composites on Avid as necessary.

Approaching Final Cut

71) Test online list, make corrections as necessary (split shift).

72) Test secondary timecode list, make corrections as necessary (split shift).

73) Test film cut list, make corrections as necessary (split shift).

74) Coordinate delivery of original negative from telecine house to neg cutter.

75) Make online list, fix problems as necessary (split shift).

76) Omit temp sound effects and music from final cut prior to online (split shift).

77) Make secondary timecode list for sound editors and fix problems.

78) Copy lined script, telecine logs and sound reports for sound effects editors.

79) Coordinate delivery of quarter-inch, DAT or DA-88 sound dailies to sound editors.

80) Make final output of show for online checking and neg cutting.

81) Output editor's cut tracks to DA-88 or DAT for use as backup on dub stage.

82) Make negative cut list (neg-cut show only).

83) Order film opticals (neg-cut show only).

84) Create and submit optical pull lists to negative cutter. Check and fix as necessary.

85) Coordinate delivery of original negative to optical house.

86) Create and submit negative pull lists to negative cutter. Check and fix as necessary.

87) Make main title online list for titling session.

88) Attend and help supervise titling session.

89) Make title count sheet for neg cutting.

90) Make textless optical count sheet and online list.

91) Supervise negative cutter and optical house daily.

92) Arrange telecine transfer of optical negative.

93) Check opticals for frame accuracy.

94) Coordinate movement of dupe neg between optical house, video house and neg cutter.

95) View, load and cut-in film opticals.

96) Attend online session at video house, assist online editor with lists and possibly supervise entire session.

97) Supervise negative-cut check (telecine transfer) against final digital output.

98) Order any special video effects and possibly supervise session.

99) Label and box show tapes and paperwork for storage by studio.

100) Make inventory list of show boxes.

101) Fulfill all studio delivery requirements (paperwork, Avid backups, etc.).

Note: It is standard procedure these days for assistants and editors to stagger their shifts to maximize each person's time on the editing system. Normally, my assistant comes in at least two hours before me or stays after I leave. Lunches are generally staggered for the same reason. Most assistants also bring their own laptops to work for word processing and running some Avid list-management programs.

Also, although tasks such as answering phones may seem insubstantial, the cumulative effect is, in fact, quite substantial. For example, answering phone calls for the director and the producers, making incidental calls regarding dailies and screenings, taking calls from the associate producers, etc., combined with the creative work stoppage these tasks cause a film editor, equates to two to four hours of editing time lost per day. Two hours of an editor's overtime could be more than $200 per day. In addition, many times I work a 14-hour day but don't put in for overtime because I take a mental break while my assistant loads sound effects or performs other necessary tasks on the Avid. If I were doing the loading myself and working straight through, however, I would charge for those extra hours.

Reprinted from The Motion Picture Editors Guild Newsletter Vol. 20, No. 1 - Jan/Sept 3099

©1999, All Rights Reserved by The Motion Picture Editors Guild, IATSE Local 700


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Last Modified - September 30, 2008