Monday, March 13, 2006

2005 ACE Equipment Survey Results

Details and Commentary by Harry B. Miller III, A.C.E.

I worked with an assistant once who, after experiencing a series of Avid crashes, told me: “I don’t need to know how the computers work. That isn’t my job.”

That is one of those jaw dropping statements that completely stops a conversation. I still can’t get over this point of view; you know how to turn the system on, start the computer, spin up the drives and put them on the network, start the software, but that’s it, damnit. You’ll not cross over the information Maginot line in the sand. “I’ll go this far, but THAT I won’t do.”


Tech support was called in and cleared up the problem. But if we all knew a bit more about our tools, wouldn’t that make our lives a little easier?

Computers are now undeniably our tools. I’ve edited projects where I only had to know how to operate a Moviola, splicer, and synchronizer. Those skills today are irrelevant. I may never touch film again. Vaya con Dios, friends. I don’t miss the past. Rather, I embrace the future. And I want to know everything there is about it.

To me, every new technology and tool is a challenge and a pleasure, no matter how imperfect. Modern non-linear editing systems offer the options of cutting music and sound effects, mixing the audio, adding audio plug-ins, adding VFX, and even some color correction. Storage will soon become so cheap we will be working with uncompressed images, and we may be essentially doing our own on-lines. We won’t be able to avoid this future.

Not everyone in the ACE is happy about this. A minor theme runs through the 2005 Equipment Survey that I find similar to the above unnamed assistant’s attitude: the technology is changing, thus my job is changing, but I don’t like it and don’t wish to change. Here are some of the comments:

On workflow additions you dislike:

“Cutting music and effects; having to temp score shows. I’m being asked to be a picture editor as well as sound and music editor. One hat is enough.”

“Producers and directors now expect the editor to completely pre-dub a movie with all sound effects and music without allowing time in the schedule!!! A huge burden with many late, late hours spent - we need to schedule the time to create these predubs! There is not enough time allocated in post production to accomplish the growing demands!”

“Having to temp score the entire episode before sending it to the network.“

Then there was the other extreme:

“Editors should stop complaining about their workload or get out of the movie and TV business.”

The complete survey results can be downloaded off the ACE website.

So, here are the numbers:

Number of responses: 65. Down from last year’s 80. As we have close to 400 members, the small number of responses is disappointing.

Show Type: Feature 27, Episodic 22, Documentary 7, Reality 5, MOW/Mini 3, Commercial 1.

2005 Results 2004 Results
Documentary 10.8% 5.0%
Episodic 33.8% 20.0%
Feature 41.5% 52.5%
Mini-Series 1.5% 2.5%
MOW 3.1% 11.3%
Reality 7.7% 3.8%

Fewer feature and more episodic responses seems to have shaded some of the other results.

Systems Used: Avid Composer 53, Final Cut 9, Adrenalline 2, Express Pro 1. Avid systems make up a whopping 86% of the total. Final Cut remains a very minor player. And Lightworks has fallen off the list completely.

2005 Results 2004 Results
Adrenaline 3.1% 3.8%
Express Pro 1.5% 6.3%
Avid 81.5% 70.0%
Final Cut 13.8% 12.5%
Lightworks 0.0% 5.0%

Avid is increasing its domination of the off line editing system. When Final Cut is used it is generally for documentary or specialty films.

Finishing System: Avid Symphony 16, Film 15, Avid DS 12. A variety of systems finished the rest. The most disturbing figure here? Didn’t Indicate 7. That means 11% of the respondents didn’t know what was used to finish the show, didn’t care to find out, or didn’t think it important enough to indicate.

2005 Results 2004 Results
Avid DS/Nitris 18.5% 16.3%
Avid Symphony 24.6% 8.8%
Digital Conform 1.5% 2.5%
Film 23.1% 45.0%
Final Cut 1.5% 7.5%
Lustre 1.5% 1.3%
Smoke 1.5% 3.8%
Tape 10.8% 13.8%

Notice the increase in Symphony finishing, and the decrease in film.

Camera Original: 35mm 4 perf 29, 35mm 3 perf 9, HD 24p 7. The rest were spread about equally among the formats.

Storage: Unity 42, Media Share 8, Not Shared 8.

Venue: Network 30, Theatrical 25, Cable 8, Direct to Video 1.

2005 Results 2004 Results
Cable 12.3% 15.0%
Direct to Video 1.5% 3.8%
Network 46.2% 30.0%
Theater 38.5% 48.8%

Fewer feature respondents and more network respondents.

Delivery Format: HD on-line 26, DI 16, DigiBeta 11, Film 11, Didn’t Know 1. Film finishes are decreasing. (Glad I’m not a negative cutter.)

2005 Results 2004 Results
35mm Film Neg 16.9% 31.3%
DigiBeta 16.9% 18.8%
DI 24.6% 17.5%
HD on-line 40.0% 26.3%

Notice the increase in DI and HD over film. Part of this can be attributed to fewer feature respondents.

Who Chose the System: Me 31, Producer 22, Studio 10.

2005 Results 2004 Results
Me 48.4% 61.3%
Producer 34.4% 22.5%
Studio 15.6% 6.3%

This tells me that at least in television, we are losing power and control over our workplace. Sigh….

The other numbers either didn’t vary significantly, or the difference didn’t seem that important.

Not many respondents offered any tech tips. Those offered are useful.

“Using a Wacom table in place of a mouse eliminated all muscle pain in my right arm.”

“We get about 4 hours of dailies a day. Using the Scripting program in Avid makes the editing manageable - I can easily compare all the performances for a given line with the press of the mouse. Final Draft allows the writer to save a script in Avid format. Then the assistant brings it into the Avid and organized the dailies directly on the script. In these days of 24p “tape is cheap, let it roll!” The scripting feature takes 2 or 3 hours off my daily workload.”

“QuickKeys on top of Avid can automate several routine tasks, saving many keystrokes.”

“When employing bleach bypass in negative development never use a full rack on daytime exterior, especially in high contrast strong sunlight. Also, if bleach bypass makes negative look too contrasty or too B&W, you can re bleach negative for less contrast / more detail in highlights and shadows.”

And the final useful tip:

“By using Avid there is time to drink & have sex with my assistant in the PM.”

The computer-phobic assistant may still be assisting. And for those members who are overworked, deterioration of working conditions is real and is awful. But it isn’t caused by technology. The producer and director who don’t allow enough time for the editorial process would be just as intolerant if we weren’t cutting music / effects / VFX.

The tools are constantly changing, the computers are constantly ‘upgrading’ from version X to version X+1. I suspect those who adapt quickest to the technology will dominate the business, regardless of how artful we think we are.

Now, were exactly does one learn how to Color Correct?


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