Jeffery Harrell

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Mar 20

How saving a day cost me two days

So this friend of mine promised one of his friends he’d cut her short film for her. Life intervened and he found himself without the free time, so I volunteered to take over, since I don’t have anything else going on right now anyway.

Now, by “short film” here I mean short film. The script is only 17 pages, and it reads long, so it’s just not that big a deal. All shot on 7D mostly MOS, with just a handful of sync-sound scenes, and the deliverable is just a QuickTime. No biggie, right?

Well, naturally I wanted to cut it in Avid. Because Avid is my girlfriend. But see, the right workflow to do this job in Avid involves AMAing all the takes, then batch-transcoding them to DNx 36 to cut, then relinking back to the AMA media once the edit’s finished. Transcoding takes a long time on my humble laptop, and I didn’t want to waste a whole day just doing that. So I decided to save myself a day by doing the job in Premiere Pro CS 5.5 instead.

Now, this job should be right in Premiere Pro’s wheelhouse. Native DSLR media, not a lot of fancy stuff, no real compelling need to collaborate with anybody else … easy, right?

Yeah, not as much as you might hope.

I started the job like you always start DSLR jobs: By using QTchange to lay timecode tracks onto the media files the camera spits out. See, DSLRs like the 7D don’t record a timecode track at all, which makes editing a bit tricky later on down the line. This is easy to work around, though, because QTchange gives you the option of quickly and easily adding a timecode track to all your media files. You can either use the timestamp the camera recorded to be the timecode of your first frame, or you can ignore that and use incrementing timecode instead. It’s basically analogous to the difference between free-run and rec-run on your camera; you can let the camera’s internal clock set the timecode (free-run) or you can say mag 1 starts at 01:00:00:00 and counts up, mag 2 starts at 02:00:00:00 and counts up, and so on (rec-run). Totally doesn’t matter which you pick (as long as the free-run method doesn’t cross the midnight line), as long as you pick something and stick with it.

Me, I picked the free-run method, because why not, it’s easy. Couple clicks and it was done. Easy peasy. This turns out to have been an error, for reasons I’ll get to in a sec.

The next step was to import all my takes into Premiere Pro. Now, if you’re an Avid person I might need to clarify this: “Importing” into Premiere is not like “importing” into Avid. It’s more like “importing” into Final Cut Pro, in the sense that you just tell the program “Hey, use these files here,” and it does. It doesn’t actually move any data around or transcode anything. It just refers to the files already on whatever hard drive you’re using. So it’s a quick process, generally speaking.

What I should have done next is to double-check that Premiere was reading the timecode from my QuickTimes correctly. That’s what a fastidious and careful editor would’ve done. Cause the relationship between NLE timecode and source-media timecode is the heart and soul of editing; screw that up, and … well, you’ll see shortly.

Anyway, I loaded all my shots into Premiere (in the Premiere sense of “loading”) and started working. It was going okay, I got the first minute or so cut, then hit my first scene with sync sound. For reasons I won’t go into detail on here — involving Premiere Pro 5.5’s completely fucking stupid “Merge Clips” feature and the general impossibility of dealing sanely with sync sound in that program — I decided it was time to rethink my choice and consider cutting the project in Avid instead.

That’s where yesterday ended. Bad news: I had serious doubts about my ability to do the project in Premiere and stay sane at the same time, because of the sync-sound issue. Good news: I had a solid minute on my timeline, and moving that over to Avid should be fairly easy, with either an AAF or an EDL. So I slept well and soundly last night.

This morning, though … goddamn.

First thing: If you use the “Merge Clips” feature in Premiere — comparable-sort-of-but-turns-out-not-really to AutoSync in Avid — you can no longer export an AAF. Period. It’s right there in the manual and everything: No AAF or XML exports with merged clips. Well, shit.

That’s not that big a deal, though, because I’d only cut in about four sync-sound shots in one scene. I could redo those edits easily by hand in Avid. What I did want to bring over was the minute of shots before that scene that I’d spent most of my time on the day before. Surely I can just lop off the offending sync-sound scene and export the rest as an AAF, right?

Turns out … no. Not really. I can export an AAF all right, once I remove the merged clips, but that turns out to be way more complicated than it should be, because of a variety of things I won’t bother going into here because you’ll probably just say “Oh, you fix that by doing bonk” for each one, and you’ll have missed the point that by this time I just didn’t care any more, so rather than working the problem I just punted and went back to the stone age. I used an EDL.

God bless EDLs. They’re the most brain-dead, stupid interchange format in existence. Ever looked at one? There’s like no information in there. And that’s awesome because it means they’re so simple they’re damn near impossible to screw up. Right? Right?

You know how this goes. Do major amputations on your timeline: no dissolves, no V2, no none of that. Hell, just to keep life simple, strip off all the audio, because I can just replace that later with a couple quick edits. Next: export an EDL of the timeline. Take that EDL into EDL Manager, sanity-check it, then hit “send sequence.” Pick a bin, and poof, there’s the timeline, along with one 24-hour-long offline clip for each source reel that was referenced in the EDL.

Now for each source reel, use the “Modify” function to change its source to the tape name of your choice; this should match the tape name in the media you want to relink to. Click click, done, now hit “relink” and hope for the best.

Yay! Everything relinked correctly! That’s awesome! Except … erm … no, it’s not. Because it turns out these are the wrong fucking frames.

First frame of first shot in Premiere:


First frame of first shot in Avid:


I’m looking at entirely different pieces of my shots, not the pieces I selected in Premiere when I edited this sequence the first time. Totally different frames.

And if you look real close at those two images, I bet you can figure out why. Have you spotted it yet? Give up? I’ll tell you, but brace yourself. Cause this is where it gets good. I mean really good. You ready for this?

Premiere Pro CS 5.5 cannot fucking count.

Uh-huh. You heard me. Look close at those screen shots. See how the two both show the same timecode? Like, judging by the timecode alone, you’d expect to be looking at the same frame. Same clip plus same timecode equals same frame, right?

Only nope. Because the timecode you’re seeing in the Avid screenshot is right, and the timecode you’re seeing in the Premiere screenshot is just plain wrong.

Remember up yonder when I said that using free-run timecode, based on the camera clock, was a mistake on this job? Here’s why: If I’d chosen rec-run instead, wherein the first shot on the first mag starts at 01:00:00:00, I’d have spotted the problem immediately. But I didn’t, because I didn’t care what the timecode actually was; I just needed sane timecode. So I threw some random time-of-day on there and forgot about it … which meant I completely missed the fact that Premiere was showing me — the whole time, and on every single shot in the show — the wrong timecode for every last mother-lovin’ frame.

First mag, first take, shot 1A-1-B, first frame:


As you can see here, in big friendly yellow numbers, Premiere thinks the timecode of the first frame is 01:48:51:11. But here’s the first mag, first take, shot 1A-1-B, first frame in Avid:


Observe: Same frame. Like literally the same image recorded by the camera. Only Avid thinks the timecode for this frame is 01:48:58:00. Which it is. That’s the timecode QTchange put on that frame (I went back and checked). That’s the timecode QuickTime Player 7 displays (when you select the timecode track, which is not selected by default). As seen here, it’s the timecode Avid reads. It’s the timecode Final Cut Pro 7 reads — yes, I blew the dust off my FCP 7 icon just to check this. That’s the correct timecode. That’s the timecode in the file. It’s right there in big numbers, staring up at you: 01:48:58:00. No ambiguity, no complexity, no confusion. Just 01:48:58:00.

Only Premiere is all “LOL nope, 01:48:51:11.”

To try to make some kind of sense of this, I restriped that same shot with rec-run timecode instead, in QTchange. (Yes, I have a backup of the media files, what do you think I am, some kind of barbarian?) Now the timecode on that shot starts right where you’d think it’d start for mag one, take one: 01:00:00:00.

Premiere: “LOL nope, 00:59:56:09.”

What. I’m sorry, but what.

It’s probably some kind of bizarro fucked-up drop-frame thing. It’s 24-frame non-drop timecode on 23.976 media; totally normal. But Premiere is probably trying to be clever and show me drop-frame timecode instead … or some goddamn thing. If I weren’t so fed-up right now, I’d do some math to try to figure this out … but fuck it. I’m just not going to. I’m putting my foot down, Premiere. I don’t expect a lot of an NLE. I want a lot, I desire a lot, but if wishes were horses none of us would have to walk, so I take great pains to distinguish between what I hope for and what I expect. And you know what? I expect my NLE to be able to count. That’s all, that’s the absolute bare minimum. At the lowest level, editing is nothing more than counting: Count in this many frames, make a cut. Count this many more frames, make another cut. All the rest is just scotch tape and stuff. If you can count, you can edit.

But as best I can tell, Premiere couldn’t fucking count to eleven if it took its pants off.

I’m not a happy person right this minute. If you work for Adobe and you happen to read this — because you know, Internet and shit — then please accept my apology for saying in no uncertain terms that your NLE is a fucking abomination that should be pulled down brick by brick, and that we should salt the Earth beneath it so nothing ever grows there again. Later, when I’ve spent two fucking days starting over and getting back to the point where I thought I was last night, I’ll probably have calmed down enough to express myself more diplomatically. But for right now, no. For right now, I’m just pissed.

I’m pissed particularly because at this point I have a choice to make. I can either throw all the work I did yesterday, plus all the time I spent today trying to figure out where things went wrong yesterday, in the garbage and start completely over, just eating the fact that Avid will make me transcode all these takes to DNx before I can work with them in real time …

… or I can just go back to yesterday’s save of the project file and finish the fucking job in Premiere. Knowing that Premiere can’t fucking count, knowing that I’ll never be able to get any useful machine-readable representation of my timeline out of Premiere, knowing that if my friend or his friend wants to take the timeline I create and do something else with it — like ship it off for a high-quality finish for submission to festivals or whatever — then we’re all just fucked in the ear, because Premiere cannot fucking count.

And I don’t know what I’m gonna do yet. But one way or the other, I’m gonna be in a bad mood for a while.

An update: I wrote more words.

  1. jefferyharrell posted this