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John’s other work includes Papillon, Krampus, Crazy Heart and We Own the Night, among many others.
Also with us is John’s assistant editor on Antebellum, Jared Simon. Jared has worked on Ad Astra and The New Mutants as well as working as assistant editor on the pilot of the TV series, New Amsterdam.
HULLFISH: Congratulations on a great movie. Thank you both for being here. If you would — starting with John — could you introduce yourself so the people who are listening instead of watching, can understand whose voice belongs to whom.
AXELRAD: I am John Axelrad. I am the editor of Antebellum. I’ve been editing for the last 20 years. I started off as an assistant editor in this great industry. I learned from some of the best like Donn Cambern and Anne V. Coates.
I took the baton and have been editing pretty steadily for many years. So I’m very fortunate.
SIMON: And I’m Jared Simon. I was the first assistant editor on Antebellum. I had worked with John first on Ad Astra and before that with Matthew Rundell and Robb Sullivan.
HULLFISH: It’s really great having you both here. John, you’ve invited Jared to join us today — which I thought was a fantastic thing. I love that we’re talking with him as well.
What is the reason why you wanted him on this call?
AXELRAD: I’ve always maintained that editing is a team effort. My editing room — and I’m sure Jared can attest — I like to just have a very open collaborative environment. I adore my assistants. I know they work extremely hard and I want to be able to reward them by having them involved creatively in the process. My past assistants include Tom Cross. I think he’s done very well.
HULLFISH: He’s done pretty well for himself.
AXELRAD: He was my assistant on five movies and he got additional editing credit and all of them. It was still a little early in my career. I started sharing editing credit with Kayla Emter. She edited with me on The Immigrants and the Don Cheadle-Miles Davis movie, Miles Ahead.
She’s done very well. Last year she edited Hustlers.
And then Lee Haugen was my assistant and we’ve collaborated on a couple of films including The Lost City of Z and Ad Astra.
I met Jared through Robb Sullivan and this is my first time with Jared as my first assistant. Before it was Scott Morris who has been a great collaborator and he wound up getting additional editing credit on Ad Astra.
But Ad Astra was a film that just went on and on and so Scott couldn’t join me on Antebellum. Jared stepped in and Jared did a fantastic job. He was very creative when it came to visual effects temping. He did most of the temping of our visual effects but also narratively — I gave them scenes to edit. I really valued his input as did the directors.
HULLFISH: Was there anything special in this, Jared, workflow-wise that was challenging or different from previous films you’d worked on?
SIMON: There wasn’t anything that was specific or different about this. It really cemented a lot of the practices that I had learned on previous films, especially working on Ad Astra.
Because of the environment that John fosters in the room — and John and Lee had an Ad Astra — Scott was really busy but he was afforded a lot of time to teach me the best practices of how to step into the first assistant seat and what that would look like.
So I wouldn’t say that there was an extraordinarily different, but I was prepared because of my experiences on that film and on The New Mutants where I was hanging out with the first assistant on that for a lot of my time and just being exposed to what the responsibilities are and what to expect — that way I can be proactive and prepare for things down the line.
I built a database on this show based on the structure that I clung to that John provided. Things like marker systems, marker formatting, versioning cuts. There was a lot that I built on upon.
HULLFISH: I really want to get to the editing with John — and with you — but I am really interested in the database that you built. I’m assuming this is FilemakerPro and this would be what is called a codebook. Can you speak to what the importance of it is and what are some of the things that are in a codebook and why do you need them?
SIMON: A great resource that’s out there is Richard Sanchez’s Master the Workflow course, where he talks a great deal about his codebook.
AXELRAD: That was on my periphery. I had read a lot of blog posts, like Evan Schiff’s editing brain dump. A lot of it is VFX databases. I started teaching myself Filemaker and I saw that it was much more powerful than even how I’m currently using it. It’s still evolving.
The crux of it is the code book which is really just a repository for all of the dailies data that comes in. So when we were getting dailies in, I’d spoken with the dailies tech. I’d made sure that he was putting the right information in bins and making sure that we had specific information that was coming through — his comments were coming through in the bin.
I had a bin view that I would export and bring that into Filemaker and that would allow me later on down the line — when we were doing VFX turnovers — to have information that was coming in through EDLs from our timeline that was fed into a different portion of the database.
It would pull from the code book and it would give me all this information like lens data and — there’s so much that the database does that I’m having trouble, because it’s more than just VFX. Also I used it for ADR. I used it to track our ADR lines. I used it for our continuity formatting — to time the continuity as well. I used it to keep track of our DI and our optical effects. I used to keep track of our music cue sheet.
We had a music editor — Anele Onyekwere — who was working down the hall from us and he saw what I was doing with the VFX, just keeping track of that, and he was showing me what he was doing in ProTools. Because I taught myself Filemaker I was able to build a whole portion of my database that he could access through a secure wireless connection and he was able to feed ProTools documents into the database and it would do the math for him to do his timing on the cues.
That would save him time and that also gave me insight as to what cues are we using in the movie? What version of the cues are we using? What’s currently in there? He also had access to our continuity so he could see what scenes his cues were in. So it was a really great way to bring the whole team together.
It wasn’t just me using the database. It was also our second assistant editors who were working on the movie that we’re able to tap in and do a lot of logging and description.
HULLFISH: John, for you as an editor, is that database something that’s just invisible and you don’t really worry about it — other than the fact that it makes things go smoothly behind the scenes — or is it something that you’re actually taking advantage of?
AXELRAD: Well, I only take advantage of it insomuch that I really dot my i’s and cross my T’s when it comes to markers — formerly known as locators — in Avid. I am very fastidious with ADR — marking ADR lines — specifically exactly where they should go.
I developed this format with Tom Cross where it’s tab-delimited with equal signs that separate the different fields. So I do that with VFX, with DI effects, ADR. It was important to me that nothing got missed.
So when I saw Jared’s database I knew that he was properly going to handle all this incoming information. It wasn’t just something thrown on a Microsoft Word document. It was processed and everything was being tracked.
So it just made me sleep better at night. I wasn’t necessarily working with his database, but seeing what he was doing with it made all the difference to me.
SIMON: Dealing with versioning cuts was part of that peace-of-mind. The way that John likes to work is with these work-in-progress cuts. With the database, I kept track of what version of the cut went out to which department when and I could recall at a moment’s notice: what’s the last turn-over the music department got as opposed to the composer? And I kept records of that stuff because a lot of the versioning would fall to me.
I would take the work-in-progress and assign it a version based on the last turnover. It was the peace-of-mind of knowing that everything is accounted for and everything is being taken care of.
HULLFISH: Let’s talk a little bit about story and structure and that kind of thing. This is an interesting movie. From the trailer, I think everybody knows that it kind of occurs in two different time periods: present-day and what appears to be the past.
What kind of discussions did you have about that jump between those two worlds and how to deal with them without giving away “the reveal.”.
AXELRAD: When I read the script I thought, “This is going to be a challenge — in a good way.” And I’m always looking to challenge myself with bold material. And I knew that balancing tone was gonna be a challenge because it does change between Southern Gothic period piece, modern-day romantic comedy, horror, and action.
I’ve done a few of those films before where I’ve balanced horror and comedy. I did two of them: Krampus and James Gun’s Slither. That is kind of an editor’s dream and nightmare at the same time because you don’t want to go too far in one direction.
This film was a little unusual because there are very specific three acts the way it was written — where the first act takes place in the antebellum days on a plantation. Then we shift to modern-day where it goes a little more comedic and then the third act returns to the plantation and that’s where the horror happens and then it ends with some action scenes.
So it wasn’t so much intercut as much as an editor would want, but I totally respected and appreciated the three-act structure that the director-writers came up with. I fully embraced the script as it was. Just making it feel like one cohesive whole is what we as editors do — and also lose sleep over to make sure that everything is balanced just right.
HULLFISH: One of the things that I noticed was — it was very important, it seemed to me — to follow Janelle Monae’s character.
AXELRAD: Veronica or Eden.
It was very important to follow Veronica’s point-of-view. Can you talk about point-of-view in your editing and either how you sense it and how you want to play with point-of-view or how you discuss that with the director?
AXELRAD: I’ve worked a lot with a director named James Gray. He’s kind of a neoclassicist with his filmmaking and he is very, very particular about point-of-view and making sure that your point-of-view is with your protagonist almost at all times.
Any time we veer away from the main character’s point-of-view — when I work with James — it’s done intentionally on purpose to call something out. Sometimes he’s had a side character looked directly into the camera, which was an interesting technique to kind of break point-of-view. It was almost Ingmar Bergman-like.
But with (directors) Gerard (Bush) and Christopher (Renz,) they purposely did break point-of-view a few times. We are with Janelle Monae’s character pretty much throughout the film, but in the first act we do go with Tongayi (Chirisa) who is a side character. We have an emotional scene with him.
We do spend more time with some of these secondary characters and leave our main character and I did bring this up to them — about breaking point-of-view. But their attitude was, This is modern filmmaking. It’s not chapter-and-verse that you have to stay in the point-of-view of the main character the whole time.
Again, I respected that. I’ve kind of been trained in the neoclassical way of James Gray but I welcomed something different and I think it really works.
It’s always been an audience favorite scene when we go with Tongayi and experience his emotional scene. But the point of view of the character — played by Janelle Monae — is the through-line between the three acts and without giving too much away, it’s also a change in perspective. We see the world through her eyes on the plantation and then when we get to modern-day we see a different side to her. And by the third act, we’re putting both characters together.
She’s Eden on the plantation and Veronica. In modern-day, and it culminates in the third act. Having that point of view and her perspective on the themes in the movie is hopefully what resonates with the viewer.
HULLFISH: I noticed it with things like there’s a scene where she’s in an Uber and she kind of realizes that things are not as they appear and instead of revealing it with typical coverage, it’s her character’s perspective. I also noticed point-of-view in another scene where she is talking to her daughter about an interview she gave on TV and when she’s talking to her daughter you’re clearly using the shot from an angle as if her daughter is looking at her.
AXELRAD: The filmmakers and the cinematographer — Pedro Luque — were very good about doing perspectives. Point-of-view in that sense, I can totally see what you’re saying.
I think that has a lot to do with camera angle choices and wanting to get into the child’s eye.
Also to make that scene that you reference in the Uber to make that scene a little scarier — not being able to see what was happening outside of her perspective. I take point-of-view and perspective — some people may interchange them.
The perspective of those scenes was definitely through her eyes. It was really to heighten the terror and the suspense. The filmmakers were very good about that. They really wanted to see things through her lens — through her world, and thematically that resonates in the film.
When we get to the end of the film and we experience her horse riding. Although we’re not necessarily seeing it through her eyes, we’re definitely seeing it through her point-of-view.
HULLFISH: I see the distinction you’re making here. Especially with the horse chase. You rarely see a shot as if it’s through her eyes, but we are experiencing it through her point-of-view instead of — say — her pursuer’s point-of-view.
So do you want to talk a little bit about what the difference is between — in your mind — perspective and point-of-view? Is point-of-view a more thematic idea and perspective is more literal camera angles? How are you seeing those two words?
AXELRAD: I do think of point-of-view in terms of more of a character arc. So I see point-of-view as a broader term. We’re WITH the character. So you can be in a character’s point-of-view being on a close-up of that character and sensing the world through their mind.
Now perspective for me is having — I guess you could call — point-of-view camera angles. Where we’re actually physically seeing the world through their eyes. So, to me, perspective is a little more specific to camera angle choices and mise en scene and how the director wants to portray the world, whether it be through a child’s eyes, a child’s perspective.
The scene you mentioned was definitely an up angle at Janelle Monae but still, the whole scene is within Janelle Monae’s point-of-view. But we’re seeing it through the child’s perspective.
HULLFISH: To use that same scene where they’re looking at the footage of her on a news program with her daughter and her husband. The point-of-view of that scene is shown in a wonderful shot of her watching herself and you can just see the play of emotion over her face. It’s almost like she’s reliving it or she’s re-experiencing it and relishing her decisive win in the argument.
AXELRAD: Exactly. And this is the point-of-view of the movie as a whole — in a larger sense — is Janelle Monae’s character and also the differences of her world on the plantation and her world in modern-day. She’s still the same person. So it’s really to get a better understanding of her having gone through the first act — which is long, it’s difficult for some to watch. We knew this film was going to be polarizing. There’s no doubt about that. I mean it’s bold and risk-taking. And some people are very uncomfortable through the first act because it really deals with the horrors of slavery and we don’t shy away from depicting some of the atrocities.
But then to see who this person is in the modern-day, hopefully, reinforces that point-of-view and then that prideful moment that you mentioned when she really sees herself put to shame this conservative pundit on national television.
The hope is really to have a better understanding of her character and hopefully that all comes together in the third act when she decides to defeat her oppressors.
HULLFISH: Another great scene showing her point-of-view — but not her perspective — is a scene where another slave on the plantation is saying, “What’s the plan?” There are great moments on Janelle’s face where she’s kind of getting challenged and instead of coming back and trying to challenge back she’s weary and frustrated and appears to have given up.
AXELRAD: What’s really interesting about that scene — I know the director’s intent is to show the generational gap between the older generation of African-American revolutionaries who have more of a Martin Luther King approach. “Let’s wait it out. Let’s be patient. Let’s continue to fight. You may lose the battle but we want to win the war” type of thing.
Whereas the younger generation tends to be more impatient and “let’s do it now.”
I found it interesting that this was the framework for what the directors had in mind. It’s the two generations clashing. Really in a larger context about what oppression feels like from different points of view in terms of “what should we do?” And it’s also the frustration that if we act now we may win the battle, but not win the war.
So it’s really something for all generations to reflect on. What do we do?
The oppression continues obviously in today’s world and this film is meant to be a mirror to what’s happening in society socially and politically today.
HULLFISH: You mentioned intent. Is that something that you discuss with the director upfront? Is it something that more happens during the director’s cut?
AXELRAD: I always try to have these conversations early if I can. I always want to be able to break down a script and really understand the intent — to almost take a continuity or scene cards and mark them up with symbols or notations of what the intent of every scene is because oftentimes during the shoot — and in the chaos of dailies or editing out of order — you want to always remember what the core intent is.
Unfortunately, a lot of times — and in this specific case of Antebellum — I got hired two weeks before shooting started and they’re on location and we’re editing here in Los Angeles and I couldn’t have those conversations as much as I wanted to.
That’s the unfortunate thing with post-production. As you know, we should be part of the preproduction process. I think it’s going to help the story overall. It’s going to help the whole editing process overall. If we’re there for the storyboarding if we’re there for the planning, the scene breakdowns, even rehearsals.
The more information we have about the director’s intent the better the first edits are going to be.
I will freely admit I totally missed the mark on many things. One of the scenes at the end where she’s riding a horse through a battlefield, I really didn’t understand what their intent was. They shot all sorts of footage. I cut it together — what I thought was a very beautiful, lyrical way. And that was clearly not what they wanted at all.
It would have saved us all a lot of time had I been able to have those conversations with them ahead of time, but unfortunately, there wasn’t time.
SIMON: But there were scenes during production where we were sending the director’s an output so that we could get their feedback on a scene — especially if it was time sensitive. That was really cool to be able to get their input. It was really great to get their feedback as soon as possible.
AXELRAD: Yeah. It’s always important to send scenes out. Whether the director….
HULLFISH: Watches them!
AXELRAD: Watches them or not.
At least I sleep better at night because one of the worst things for a director is to see the assembly. And actually one of the worst things for an EDITOR is to watch the assembly.
AXELRAD: There are things in there that are not going to wind up being in the final movie, but it is your obligation to include everything. This is the only version of the film where everything will be included and even though you want to cut a line of dialogue desperately or you know that the script is really overwritten in this section and we don’t have to have this certain scene in or it’d be better if the scene got moved somewhere else, you can’t do that because you want the director to see the script as shot.
That’s when you roll up your sleeves and start getting into it during the Director’s Cut to fix things. So screening an editor’s assembly is always painful. To Jared’s point, sending them scenes as you’re cutting them with the hope that they’re watching them kind of lessens the blow. When they see everything strung together for the first time.
SIMON: That was one of the biggest lessons for me that I learned from John on this. One of the scenes that I was assembling when it came in was the scene where they’re all with Janelle’s character and her friends go out to dinner.
I laid out the bin for that scene and I was very apprehensive of it because all the cameras were always roaming and you never knew who was gonna be on camera. And I was always very apprehensive of those kinds of scenes because as an up-and-coming editor — as an assistant editor — I just wonder, “How do I know who to cut to when?” I asked John if I could take a swing at it. I just wanted to see if I could do it.
John said, “Go for it. It’s yours.” I tried it and John was giving me notes the entire way and there were a couple of times where I called John and asked him to take a look at it. There were a few places where I felt like we didn’t need this line or we could do this. And John said, “No. We need to show them the whole scene.”
So what I learned was to create an alt of the sequence — like a sub-sequence — so I could do what I thought was a good starting point and keep it in our back pocket for later when the directors are in and reviewing. That way — for that scene and for many others — there were a couple of alts in the scene bins that as soon as the director sat down with John they were able to go through and we could present them immediately with other options.
HULLFISH: That was actually one of the questions I was going to ask John was: Do you create alts for those scenes where you know something has got to come out.
AXELRAD: Oh yeah. I always do it. I do it on the side. I just want to be prepared with that and if the director spins out watching something and he or she says, “This isn’t working!” I can say, “Wait. Hold on. What about this?”
One time I cut a scene for James Gray that had all kinds of coverage. They just shot a ton. And many different angles. Some were really cool and I felt an obligation — this was early in our collaboration together — to try to include as many of these different angles, tastefully, as I could. When he saw the first edit he said to me, “You know you don’t have to include everything that I shoot.”
But without proper communication how do you know that? Without knowing what the hero take is or what the hero angle is, we’re just kind of guessing what the intent is. For me, dailies is the most frustrating part of the process, because I’m always scratching my head and just trying to figure out, “What do they intend here?”
The script supervisor is very instrumental in helping me convey even offhanded comments on the shoot. I always ask the script supervisor to write down anything she hears. If the director says something like, “Well, we’re not going to use this, but we’re here, let’s just shoot it.” That kind of stuff is helpful to me.
So until such time as the director gets in the editing room, we want to have as many options prepared as possible to appease any frustration about an edit not working.
SIMON: That dinner table scene was another good example of not knowing what the intent was because when the suitor comes over to talk to Dawn you don’t see his face in the film. You never see his face and it was a very conscious choice that they had directed that way. And it’s one of many motifs that they use throughout the film.
We did have coverage of him and the first version of that scene had his face in there. And that was one of the first conversations we had with the directors when we got to that scene was, “We don’t want to see his face.” And so that was changed.
HULLFISH: It’s interesting that they would know ahead of time that they didn’t want to see the face — and this happens a lot, right? They shoot the coverage anyway because what if the studio says, “We’ve got to see the guy’s face.” Then you’re stuck. So for the directors to know their intent is to not show the face, yet to get coverage of it anyway but not communicate that intent… they maybe just want to see the editor’s take on it?
AXELRAD: I think it’s smart that they did get the coverage. I would always give a director advice that, “Hey you can be 100 percent sure on the set that you’re not going to need something and we’re going to shoot it a certain way…”
Oners are a good example of that. And I always plead with them, “Please get coverage. You just don’t know. You don’t want to get to the editing room and regret not having done something that was very doable on the set.”
Grabbing an insert of something. You think, “Well we don’t need that.” But if you’re there or have a B unit team, please do grab it if you can.
I couldn’t talk to the directors before I cut the scene. We noticed that his head was cut off in many shots but it was multiple cameras and one of the cameras was trained on his face for many of the takes and many of the setups.
Jared was right to edit it naturally the way that you would expect to see a scene, not knowing how they wanted it cut.
Another good example — when I was an assistant — and I worked for Anne Coates — along with Robb Sullivan — we were on the movie Out of Sight and that famous intercut scene between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. Really, that kind of got and the Academy’s attention. That was the scene — the intercut seduction scene.
They were two separate scenes. It was in the script as two separate scenes. And it was cut that way — as two separate scenes. It wasn’t until Steven Soderbergh got to the editing room and we realized he wanted to intercut them. Maybe he had that plan all along. Maybe he was waiting to get to the editing room to explore some new ideas. But it was so pivotal to the movie and the style — the freeze frames — everything like that was just so pivotal to the movie, but we had no clue that was something that Steven intended.
So I always tell directors, when they see an assembly — which, by the way, I think we cut very well considering what we can do with limited communication and cutting out of order. But it’s not what they envisioned.
It’s always disappointing to a director and I always remind a director that they usually have way more time in their director’s cut than they did in the shoot. Some movies shoot more than 10 weeks but a director will have 10 weeks to do their edit. And then it’s not really over after that. You get the producer notes, the studio notes, and the director continues to tweak, he just has more collaborators.
HULLFISH: Soderbergh’s an actual editor. He edits, correct?
AXELRAD: He does now. Anne Coates edited Out of Sight and Erin Brockovich. Steven Soderbergh started shooting his own stuff and then eventually editing his own movies, but I don’t think he started out that way. I don’t know. Sex, Lies and Videotape? Did he edit that?
HULLFISH: My thought was that I’ve talked to David Fincher’s editors and they said that Soderbergh contributes on edits on a lot of the Fincher stuff. Those two are more friendly collaborators, I think, than anything formal. But Soderbergh will go through and do an edit take on a lot of that stuff.
AXELRAD: He’s a brilliant guy. Very multitalented and he’s not the first director slash editor to have graced Hollywood screens and he’s very good at what he does. I didn’t know that with Fincher, but it makes complete sense.
HULLFISH: One of the things that I really like talking about — and I’d be interested in hearing both of your perspectives on this — is the idea of ego and the place of ego in the edit room. When you deliver a scene like the horse chase scene where the director tells you that it isn’t at all what they envisioned. That doesn’t mean your edit was bad. It means that you could have done a lovely edit and it was just not what the director envisioned.
Talk to me about how you deal with ego in the editing room. How important it is to have it, and how important it is to subvert it?
AXELRAD: I always joke that editors need to be more beta, dealing with alpha directors. Part of our job is obviously the craftsmanship of editing, but our job also is being part politician, being part psychologist… and I always throw in 1 percent magician.
You have to be able to read the room and you have to understand the egos and really what’s at stake for directors. They have so much pressure on them. If we put pressure on ourselves when we present an editor’s assembly, you can imagine what they feel when they’re having people watch it for the first time or when they’re presenting it to the producers or the studio for the first time.
I’ve worked with several directors that were both actor-turned-directors that couldn’t be in the room when a film was screened even when it came down to the preview screenings and stuff like that for audiences. They just could not physically be there. They were on screen. They both acted in their movies and that wasn’t the problem. It was just having the director hat on and having to deal with the criticism.
You have to support their ego. You need to support the process. You need to keep reminding them that this IS a process. That we will get there, even though maybe it’s not where they want it to be in that certain place. Remind them that maybe we need to do a day of insert shooting. That’s in the budget. You want to be able to offer solutions and think of these solutions ahead of time which is one reason I do alternate edits as Jared mentioned.
But also to really think outside the box and anticipate problems anticipate what they’re going to say or do and be there to offer support and solutions.
The most important thing is you just can’t take things personally. As much as it hurts — and I’ve had a certain director tell me something stinks that I’ve done — and deep down I know it doesn’t really stink. We may spend a week recutting it, and we’ll ultimately come back to something very similar to what was originally there, but having the director go through the process of discovery and understanding the dailies and understanding the limitations and to live in that moment and then come out on the other side of it. That’s where an editor really has to have patience.
I always say, “I serve the film itself” and not a certain person. I’m always going to express my opinion if I feel the film — as its own entity — needs something, instead of just being a “yes man” to the director. But at the same time I always support the director’s vision, and what they hope to accomplish.
Really, the process of working together in a director’s cut is understanding what their intent is, so I can get fully behind the director.
SIMON: A lot of times I would get called into the room to be like a tiebreaker to get an opinion. John and I had these adjoining offices. We had a shared door, so a lot of the times they’d be working and I would be right on the other side of the door or their door would be open.
The directors would say, “What do you think?” John always encouraged me to be honest, of course, and that’s who I am. I’m very transparent. A piece of advice that has stuck with me — that was given to me by another assistant editor when I first started out — “Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room. Just try to be the most helpful.” And that’s really stuck with me and I think that that has a lot to do with ego, because — especially as an assistant editor — a lot of times I’ll have an answer to one of many questions that will be proposed.
There’ll be five questions that get thrown out. “There was a shot that we had with an owl. And also we want to shorten this. And we want to extend that.” I have all the answers. It’s in the code book. I could search the word “owl” and it’ll come up and I can give them the exact two takes, but it’s not very helpful in the moment to share that.
I think alot of my ego to be say, “Yes! I know this!” So a lot of what I do as an assistant is listen and then I’ll come to John later and I’ll have all of the answers on a Postit.
Especially if I have an opinion about something, a lot of times I’ll wait to share it privately and then we can discuss it and see if it’s something that’s worth promoting.
AXELRAD: I think that’s very important, what Jared just mentioned about the demeanor of an assistant.
I have the best interests of the director in mind — and for my assistants — I always look out for them. But an assistant should have the best interest of the editor in mind that they’re supporting and not say something that creates work for an editor or creates problems for an editor.
I’ve been in a situation where I’ve had an assistant say something with the director in the room that caused problems and in that case the assistant was very green and didn’t know. I pulled that person aside afterwards and let them know the protocol.
Jared was very good about that, and I think having private conversations or having an idea for a scene — privately communicate that to the editor. I always give credit. I never try to take credit, but an assistant may not know where all the bodies are buried in terms of things that have been tried before and you don’t want to have someone say something that opens a can of worms. Maybe there’s somthing that I got a director to change their mind about something and I don’t want to go back there and have them say, “Yeah! That first crazy idea I had. Let’s try that again.”
It all comes down to communication.
HULLFISH: I always think that cutting a scene is important, but it’s a very small part of the process. That process is where the real work of it happens and to be able to see that part of the process is almost more important than cutting the scene at the beginning.
Talk about kind of the process that a scene takes from the editor’s first cut on and how you try to bring an assistant into that process or show them, “Here’s how it works.”.
AXELRAD: In the case of Antebellum, we were editing over at EPS, before the pandemic and we had adjoining rooms, so a lot of times I’d have the door open. Jared could freely listen to what was going on. Even with the door closed, he could hear everything that was going on.
It was kind of funny because I’d be talking with the directors. They would say something like, We could really use a temp VFX here and then we’d hear Jared say, “I’m on it.”.
SIMON: I tried to be as proactive as I could.
AXELRAD: To have an assistant editor be engaged like that creatively and to be listening in, it doesn’t always happen because rooms can be small and there’s not always that opportunity for an assistant to observe that part of the process.
They could be more involved during dailies and the first edits of scenes but sitting in with the director — sometimes directors want to just be alone with the editor.
When I worked with Tom Cross I would get him involved and I’d suggest to the director, “Let’s have Tom work on this while we’re doing this.” I always try to involve people creatively because I just think that it gets people inspired. It makes your team work harder. I never think fear is a way to motivate someone to work better and ultimately it helps the film itself. I just care about the final product.
I do whatever I can to have an assistant see the process of the edit during the Director’s Cut stage.
HULLFISH: Jared thoughts on that?
SIMON: I was really grateful that the directors were open to everyone being as involved to their interest level, and we were all 100 percent passionate about what we were doing. Not just me. Our second assistant editor Dave Levinson and our P.A. Marco Gonzalez. We were all involved and we were all engaged and as often as they could either Marco would be in my room or Dave’s room always asking questions and that mentorship mentality is one of the things that really attracted me to John and to Robb (Sullivan) and Matt (Rundell) as well when I first started working with them.
I’m very fortunate to be able to work with people who want to see me get involved.
Going back to ego and the evolution of the scene from the editor’s cut and how it evolves — I would never have my feelings hurt when I saw a scene I assembled and how it got changed because I always thought it was just so eye-opening to see.
I forget which scene it was, but John was reviewing it and I saw how different it was than how I had put it together. I love seeing a different perspective on it.
John is really meticulous about sound work as well and his expectations for himself are really high and that’s what motivated me to want to be able to get him to listen to something that I did and hopefully think maybe that’s something that he did.
So a lot of times the evolution of a scene would be me doing sound work or temp VFX that would elevate it. One of the things — just because of our schedule and maybe our budget — was that we were doing previews and I don’t think we did a single pre-dub or temp mix for the previews.
We were cutting in 5.1 and we were really mindful about how we were putting together sounds. We had stuff from the sound department that they had treated and sent back to us specifically. That was really helpful and it sounded really cool.
They recorded frogs on location they sounded a little bit like goats. It was ominous and creepy. They blurred it together and they sent us a bunch of these 5.1 ambiances that were very unsettling and we incorporated those but things.
Using tools like Izotope RX and Mocha to be able to get some of these temp VFX to a level that doesn’t bump the directors when we’re trying to edit a scene and trying to get the point of the scene across or to show it to a preview audience where the effect or sound doesn’t take them out of the scene. I think that that was really important and that was something that I spent a lot of time on and I enjoyed spending a lot of time on.
AXELRAD: Some editors do object to doing sound work. Doing music work. And I totally respect the work that music editors do and sound editors do. They could definitely do things that I can’t even approach. I think some of that is a necessity to sell an edit where I just feel the need to — for example — really polish the dialogue here.
Jared introduced me to Izotope RX — how to create ambiances. How to EQ-match lines and stuff like that. We employed a lot of that and it is a lot of extra work but my goal is to sell an edit. Plus, for me, it’s kind of like fun time — the icing on the cake — playing with sound design.
But we had a terrific sound design team — David Esparza would feed us his design and we would incorporate it in 5.1 in the Avid.
We knew our schedule was tight. The budget of the film was under 10 million and we really wanted to maximize our final mix days, so the studio was very tickled that we were able to avoid temp dubs every time we needed to preview because we would handle the mix in the Avid and be able to project 5.1. And there was probably only one scene that we did a DI color correction on. Pretty much everything was straight out of the Avid.
HULLFISH: John, you mentioned early at the beginning of the interview that there were elements of this movie that were similar to a couple of other movies you’d edited in the past. Do you think that led you to landing this gig? Can you tell us about how you came to get this job or why the directors chose you?
AXELRAD: I interviewed with them. I had a hard time getting the interview. I finally did and I think I had a very good interview. They seemed to really respond to me. It was all through Skype. I remember they asked, “If we had to see one film of yours or parts of one film what would it be?” And I suggested that they see The Lost City of Z. I don’t know why I chose that. I mean, I’m very proud of the film.
They started watching it and it begins with a horse chase which is at the end of Antebellum. Now, it never occurred to me that they were going to respond to the horses. I had read the script for Antebellum, but as soon as they saw the horse chase they called me back and said, “We can see you can edit horses.”.
HULLFISH: (Laughs). That’s why I didn’t get this movie! Because I’d never edited horses! They just didn’t think I could edit horses.
AXELRAD: This business wants to pigeonhole you — and no slight at all against the directors — they obviously wanted to vet everybody and choose and I think they chose me for other reasons but I can’t tell you how many times I get turned down for an interview because they think, “Oh, he doesn’t have enough comedy” or “Oh, he only edits this” or “His pace is slow.”
Would you want to do the same thing over and over again? No. I try to mix it up as much as I can. I’ve been very fortunate to edit both romantic comedy, horror, some action, drama and I really try to not get pigeonholed, because this town really does want to do that to you.
But one of the reasons I got the job was horses.
HULLFISH: You’ve worked with some fantastic assistants. I’ve met Lee Haugen myself. I’ve interviewed Tom Cross several times. What is it that makes somebody stand out — either in an interview or it sounds like a recommendation from a close friend when you chose Jared.
What’s going to land an assistant a job with you?
SIMON: You trying to put me out of a gig?
HULLFISH: No, no! After this movie you can move up to editor and John is gonna be looking for another assistant. So how is that person going to get the job?
AXELRAD: In the case with Jared, he was very proactive. He reached out to me when I was editing on Ad Astra. I invited Jared over for lunch and we chatted and I thought he was charming and wonderful but at the time I didn’t really have anything.
Later, we did have an opportunity to expand the assistant team and I thought, “Well, let’s give Jared a shot.” Scott Morris and Lee were open to it, and then Jared just impressed. For me, it’s ideally having time spent with that person and just feeling something is clicking.
So a lot of times a person may start out as a second assistant or even an apprentice and work their way up. For me what’s really important is just having the acumen and the ability to anticipate issues. Jared will freely admit that he doesn’t have a long list of first assistant editing credits, but there is just something about his tenacity and his awareness and his ability to act and do things very efficiently that really spoke to me.
I thought, “He’s perfect. He’s exactly what I’m looking for. He’s anal-retentive like I am and a little OCD on stuff and wants to get everything right and that’s really what I appreciate.”
HULLFISH: Jared what are some of the things that you think in that description of “How does an assistant impress?” what do you think some of those things are that you do that help you show that you can move up?
SIMON: First, thank you for the kind words, John. I really appreciate it.
At the end of the day, I’m very grateful for the job. I love what I do. To quote Keanu Reeves, “I love movies! Gosh! I love movies!” I love watching them and I love making them and so that’s the primary driver behind everything.
To be able to work with people that make the day better is just fuel to the fire that makes me want to do my job so well.
I noticed what John was paying attention to and I made sure that those things were just as important to me as they were to John. I’m always paying attention to technology because that’s actually what I think got me interested in movies in general back when I was in high school. I was playing with computers and I found Final Cut 7.
So that’s kind of my angle. Now, as I continue to establish myself, I think one of the things that I’m really looking forward to continuing the conversation and growing as an editor — is the storytelling of it all.
Those are the conversations that I want to have and that’s what I look for, and that’s one of the reasons I want to continue working with John. I think all of these assistant tasks are kind of a setup for that — for being able to tell a good story.
It’s keeping track of these ADR lines and why they’re important for clarity. Is it because something’s muffled? It just adds to the list of things that I’m paying attention to when the dailies are coming in. So I have a more acute sense — when I’m watching dailies — of how to mark them.
There were things that John taught me about watching dailies when they were coming in. Marking a flub or reset but also marking a good moment. What makes for a good moment? Like the dinner table scene. John would drop a black marker for any really great reaction. Or we would mark green for improvisation. He would mark blue for any sort of camera bump or focus bump. I became more acutely aware of those sorts of things.
HULLFISH: I loved the diversion into markers in the point of markers.
If I can have a few more minutes of your time to just talk about tension. A lot of your movies, John, have incredible tension. This is one of them — where the tension builds and builds and you watch scenes and your heart is beating out of your chest.
What is it that you can do as an editor to enhance what they’ve done on set to build tension in a scene?
AXELRAD: That’s a good question. A lot of the projects I’ve worked on have that character intensity and I think it really comes down to character. I think you really need to invest in a character. Some scripts are in better shape than others, but as an editor, I’m just always interested in getting the emotion out of your main character.
We talked earlier about point-of-view, which is very important because you really want your audience to understand the point-of-view of your character and understand what the conflicts are — understand the character arc and you want to be able to root for your character.
So I don’t think you can fully experience tension unless you’re invested. In the story invested in the character. Some movies it’s easier to do. It has a lot to do with the performance. It has a lot to do with the writing. It has a lot to do with the way it’s shot. But, my responsibility as an editor is to convey emotion, and once you’ve got the audience hooked and once you feel the audience is not going to get bored or their mind is not going to wander and that they’re narratively engaged in the character and in the story, then you have room to let tension build because it’s only going to be most effective when you feel that your character’s life or ideals or well-being is at stake.
There’s horror tension — which is simply, you as the audience are terrified of something about to jump out, but when you’re talking about tension in drama, it’s embedded in the personality of the character.
HULLFISH: What was it like working with two directors?
AXELRAD: I really enjoyed working with the directors. It was my second time working with a pair of directors (2010’s The Switch with directors, Josh Gordon and Will Speck). I just really adore them and they’re very strong social advocates. They have a background in doing a lot of political work as well as music videos.
I’ve worked a lot with a lot of first time feature film directors and I enjoy it. I enjoy guiding them through the process. Letting them know — from years of experience — what to expect from a studio screening or what to expect from producer notes.
I always look to forge a relationship. Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz definitely have expressed interest very strongly that I’m their editor for their next film. That’s what I find most prideful — when you make people happy.
As I mentioned, this was gonna be a polarizing film. There are gonna be people who would be offended by it and others would be moved and inspired to reflect on its message. Tackling issues of the enslaved from our country’s past is never an easy sell. It’s not what you would say is a feel-good atmosphere but it’s I think very important for social discussion. That’s really what we wanted to convey throughout this film is generating more discussion about the socio-political climate in this country and hopefully, we’ve done that. The movie starts with an uninterrupted, multi-minute, 1917-ish tracking shot. Can you talk about whether there was coverage in there or what did you have to do in that scene to be able to edit it or decide that it should be a oner? Well, this was the directors’ intent. It was actually early in the production when they shot this. I think they did about six or seven takes. I remember they said the light in this take was really good but the camerawork on THIS take was so much better, and the actors — their performance — was so much better in THIS take. So we wound up stitching three shots together and we found some secret places in which to do the stitching.
Jared did the preliminary stitching — was it in After Effects?
SIMON: It was a combination of things. It starts as a really beautiful shot and then it evolves into this really horrifying shot. We needed to stabilize it a little bit and then we added the wipes.
We had done a couple of things in Avid to try and stabilize it. At the time our apprentice editor, Nick Haridopolos, was able to bring it into After Effects and he fiddled with the warp stabilizer. I don’t know what he did, but it came out really smooth.
So I brought that back into Avid and we found the best places to do the wipes. I just used a key-framed Animatte. We comped three elements to get the best performance and the best light. I think they shot six or seven takes of one part of it and I think that there were nine takes of another part. It was a difficult time shot to pull it off but I think it came out really well.
AXELRAD: ILM worked on the sequence. They did wonderful work with it. We had to add in some bushes and things like that. Also, we worked with Temprimental. They added some butterflies at the beginning. So it was really kind of a multifaceted approach to make the shot work.
The thing that made it work is having the opening titles on it which I always — in my mind — said, “This really is perfect for opening titles.” They complemented the length of that opening shot and the titles turned out perfectly with the music.
HULLFISH: Do either one of you remember how long that shot was?
SIMON: About eight minutes?
AXELRAD: It was about eight minutes.
SIMON: Was the shot itself eight minutes or the opening sequence was eight minutes? I always viewed the whole opening sequence up until the title card because it’s all married to this one beautiful music cue.
Actually, we didn’t talk about music at all. That cue was sent by the composers early on. They had sent a bunch of cues to us that were sketches I think. Right, John? They’d written it just from reading the script.
AXELRAD: They knocked it out of the park. They scored that opening theme without having seen a frame of the film and it just really worked.
They couldn’t shoot that all in one take even though it looks like it’s one take, the Steadicam operator just physically couldn’t continue. There was at least one place where we had to stitch.
I think the shot was more like around six minutes.
HULLFISH: John, Jared, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate talking to you about Antebellum.
AXELRAD: Steve, it was a pleasure. Really enjoyed our time.
SIMON: Thank you.
To read more interviews in the Art of the Cut series, check out THIS LINK and follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @stevehullfish or on imdb.
The first 50 interviews in the series provided the material for the book, “Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV Editors.” This is a unique book that breaks down interviews with many of the world’s best editors and organizes it into a virtual roundtable discussion centering on the topics editors care about. It is a powerful tool for experienced and aspiring editors alike. Cinemontage and CinemaEditor magazine both gave it rave reviews. No other book provides the breadth of opinion and experience. Combined, the editors featured in the book have edited for over 1,000 years on many of the most iconic, critically acclaimed, and biggest box office hits in the history of cinema.
For under US$20, these new —often unbranded— HDMI capture sticks have flooded the market to “compete” with the renowned Elgato CamLink 4K which officially costs ≈US$130 but has become scarce and the victim of price gouging. In fact, in many streaming situations, these two models I tested —which each now cost under US$20— are often better when 1080p (or 720p) streaming is appropriate even though a local 4K UHD recording may be desired too. These inexpensive HDMI capture sticks can indirectly solve type 1, 2, & 3 camera shyness while the more expensive CamLink 4K can only solve type 3, with a caveat that most people won’t mind after they see (or don’t see) its impact (or non impact) on the visual experience.
In this article:
Refresher about the three types of “shy” 1080p camera situations
The reality of streaming in 2020: Why not stream 4K live…
These inexpensive HDMI capture sticks downscale 4K UHD to 1080p in hardware, although with a tiny caveat
Refresher about the three types of “shy” 1080p camera situations
There are three types of 1080p shyness in cameras, in order of importance: PsF, Telecine and Doubling.
Type 1: PsF (progressive segmented frame)
I am separating PsF (progressive segmented frame) into three subcategories:
When the shy camera is set to image (and sometimes also to record internally) with a common progressive framerate (in ex NTSC regions) like ≈29.97p, it sadly outputs the signal as PsF (progressive segmented frame), in other words, disguised as ≈59.94i. To be more specific, it takes each progressive frame and segments it into two artificial fields, each with half of the original pixel resolution and each with 540 intertwining lines to add up to the original 1080. Unlike true 1080i —where each field can potentially have different temporal (time) information when there is movement, with PsF the temporal information of each artificial field is always identical.
Similarly, when the shy camera is set to image (and record internally) with a common progressive framerate (in ex PAL regions) like 25p, it sadly outputs it the signal as PsF (progressive segmented frame), in other words, disguised as 50i.
The third PsF case is very rare nowadays and never happens with HDMI, but only with some SDI and with very expensive cameras, where with the ≈23.976p (aka ≈23.98p) rate the camera sadly outputs the signal as PsF (progressive segmented frame), in other words, disguised as 47.952. (In the case of HDMI, shy 1080p cameras in ≈23.976p use a telecine method with a 2:3 (aka 3:2) pulldown explained ahead.) This rare case is outside the scope of this article.
Type 2: Telecine with pulldown
To make the ≈23.976 fit in a more standard ≈59.94i television rate, telecine performs a complex assignment to make pieces of the original frames “fit” into ≈59.94 fields, some of which contain the same temporal information and others don’t.
This is illustrated in the above graphic, which I created in 2008 to illustrate my very first article in ProVideo Coalition magazine. The instructions for the pulldown (i.e. “Put the first progressive frame in both fields of the first interlaced video frame. Now, put the second progressive frame in both fields of the second video frame in the first field of the third video frame, then…”) seem as twisted as the Twister game which dates back to 1966.
Type 3: Doubling of progressive frames per second
When set to image and record ≈29.97p, some shy 1080p cameras duplicate the number of frames per second to ≈59.94 progressive frames per second on the HDMI or SDI output. Similarly, when set to image and record 25p, they duplicate the output framerate to 50 progressive frames per second over HDMI or SDI. As long as your hardware can accept high progressive framerates like 1080/50p and 1080/≈59.94p (i.e. more recent models like the UltraStudio Recorder 3G, ATEM Mini, ATEM Mini Pro, ATEM Mini Pro ISO), this is the easiest type of shyness to solve, and doesn’t require the video mixer (“switcher”) developers/manufacturers to do anything special, as several already have at my request to properly resolve PsF and telecine while retaining all of the original image quality. To solve type 3 shyness, the user/operator should simply set the camera menu and the session in the video mixer for the desired delivery framerate (1080/25p or 1080/≈29.97p) and the mixer or software will simply skip half of the repeated progressive frames per second. This solution is not perfect, but has been the best way to solve type 3 shyness when your camera suffers from it, until the other solution proposed ahead in this article, which can also solve all types: 1, 2 and 3.
The reality of streaming in 2020: Why not stream 4K live…
Even though many available cameras offer 4K UHD, in most cases in 2020, it’s not feasible to live stream 4K UHD yet (even if you really wanted to do that). This is both because of bandwidth issues (your Internet upload speed) and platform capabilities. I’ll cover some popular services in alphabetical order:
Facebook Live now supports 1080p (after only supporting 720p before) according to this official page. In fact, Facebook now prefers we send 1080p, not 720p.
Google Hangouts is currently limited to 720p according to my research.
Google Meet is currently limited to 720p according to my research.
Google’s YouTube Live supports up to 4K UHD according to this official page if your equipment and your upload speed allow it. It also accepts 1080p and lower.
Zoom.us supports 1080p with Business, Education or Enterprise accounts but must be enabled by Zoom Support. Zoom.us also supports 720p for Pro, Business or Enterprise account without requesting it from Zoom Support. This is per this official site.
Often in 2020, we simply want to stream at 1080p or 720p, without any local recording or ISO recording. Other times, we want to record 4K UHD locally but live stream at 1080p or 720p. In either case, it is often too demanding on a single computer to receive and then downscale from 4K UHD to 1080p (or lower) while also performing other tasks (i.e. switching cameras, connecting remote video guests, picture-in-picture, adding lower thirds, chroma key) so it would be better to send the signal to the computer already downscaled to 1080p by performing that task externally of the computer.
Although many 4K UHD capable cameras can indeed supply a pre-downscaled 1080p signal, sadly many of them are still shy with the 1080p signal, as explained earlier in this article. In other words, they don’t output the original native framerate as we really need it, but instead complicate things by either doubling it (type 3 shyness) or as a quasi-interlaced 1080i over ≈59.94i or 50i (type 1 or 2 shyness).
Fortunately, since in 4K UHD there is no such thing as interlaced video, even those camera manufacturers who love to make their cameras “shy” when outputting 1080 have been forced to make them “outgoing” when outputting 4K. So when these cameras output a signal like 4K UHD at ≈23.976, exact 24, exact 25 or ≈29.97 fps, there is no longer any possible confusion of it being interlaced, since it’s undoubtedly progressive at its original native framerate, without pulldown or doubling, since the manufacturers know that all 4K UHD monitors can accept the native rate. That’s where (for this particular purpose) the new inexpensive HDMI capture sticks can shine even more than the higher-priced CamLink 4K from Elgato, which passes through the native 4K UHD signal as received. Why? Read the next section 🙂
These inexpensive HDMI capture sticks downscale 4K UHD to 1080p in hardware, although with a tiny caveat
As explained in the prior section, although for non-streaming purposes, you might want your 4K UHD signal to enter in your computer as is, if your main reason to sending it to computer in 2020 is to stream it live, it makes more sense to send it already downscaled to 1080p to alleviate your computer and your software, i.e. Ecamm Live, (covered in many articles click for a free trial) to later feed any of the platforms discussed earlier via the Virtual Cam feature in Ecamm Live Pro. It’s enough work to have your computer encode the streaming signal in real time. Alleviate it by downscaling the 4K UHD in external hardware for under US$20. That’s exactly what the two models I tested do, since their USB output is fortunately limited to 1080p.
Before explaining the tiny caveat (which probably won’t bother you for this application), I’ll first share some examples I captured at 1080p at ≈29.97p from Francisco Javier Arbolí’s Sony PXW-X70 camera (which suffers from type 3 shyness at this framerate when outputting 1080p over HDMI or SDI, but fortunately is not shy at all when outputting 4K UHD over HDMI) onto Memo Sauceda’s MacBook Pro. NOTE: All videos in this article are silent. All were imaged in the PXW-X70 at 4K in the same room but on different days, downscaled by an inexpensive capture stick, recorded at ProRes422 at the matching incoming framerate and later trimmed.
As covered before in past articles, when Sony says “30p” in cameras under ≈US$5k, Sony really means ≈29.97p. Exact 30 fps hasn’t been a broadcast standard rate since before 1953.
Did you notice any missing frames in the above clip? I didn’t either when watching it at normal speed, but I was surprised to see in the metadata that they both seemed to capture at 1080p25 (25p is a standard framerate in ex-PAL regions) instead of ≈29.97p. The same thing with the two different ones I tested. At first, I suspected that maybe these two inexpensive HDMI capture sticks were providing erroneous metadata. However, after further investigation (as you’ll see ahead), they are both actually converting the ≈29.97p signal to 25p by removing four (4) non-sequential frames. I confirmed this by later setting the Sony PXW-X70 to display free-run, non-drop frame (NDF) timecode onscreen and then playing back the recording frame-by-frame.
Although Vimeo’s compression and player sadly don’t allow us to advance every individual frame (even when using Shift + right arrow or left arrow), on my computer when playing the original ProRes 422 file (which is CFR i-frame compressed, meaning every frame is complete unto itself) frame-by-frame, I see that frames 2, 8, 14, 20 and 26 have been removed to convert the original ≈29.97p into 25p, but it is fortunately not noticeable when playing at real time, even with the continuous movement of an oscillating fan. Both units do the same removal of five frames, despite the official description of one of them which states that it delivers up to 30 Hz.(Of course, everything was shot with the shutter set for 180 degrees.)
Next, I wanted to test how these two inexpensive HDMI capture sticks would behave when actually setting the camera to shoot at 4K UHD at 25p. Here are the results:
Above, the 25p 4K UHD source video recorded with the Amazon-brandless unit.
Above, the 25p 4K UHD source video downconverted from 4K UHD to 1080p with the Walmart-GeweYeeli unit.
Both units fortunately passed all 25 frames, without skipping any. So when feeding these inexpensive HDMI sticks with 4K UHD at 25p, they pass the native 1080p25 signals.
Next, I wanted to test how they would behave if I sent 4K UHD at ≈23.976p:
Above, the ≈23.976p source video downconverted from 4K UHD to 1080p with the Amazon brandless unit. In cameras under ≈US$5k, when Sony says “24” in a menu, Sony means ≈23.976. Starting at about ≈US$5k cameras, Sony begins to offer both exact 24 and what it calls 23.98, so with those, Sony has no choice but to be more accurate in the menu.
Above, the ≈23.976p source video downconverted from 4K UHD to 1080p with the Walmart-GeweYeeli unit.
Both added an extra frame to make them be 25p! The unbranded Amazon unit repeated frame 17 consistently, while the Walmart-GeweYeeli unit repeated frame 16 consistently, so apparently they don’t share the same chip. Now we know that these inexpensive capture sticks are 25p exclusive, although each one is repeating a different frame. Fortunately, the additional frame is not noticeable when played at normal speed.
These inexpensive HDMI capture sticks do an amazing job of down-converting 4K UHD signals to 1080p when that’s the maximum spatial resolution you are going to live stream anyway. The GeweYeeli model from Walmart has the advantage of an HDMI passthrough (i.e. to feed a local monitor or monitor/recorder), although it requires external power. The Amazon unbranded model has the advantage of being more compact and not requiring external power, since it is USB bus-powered. They both indirectly solve all three types of camera shyness (1, 2 and 3) as long as your camera can output 4K UHD over HDMI. This means that they both indirectly prevent your software from unjustifiably de-interlacing an already progressive (albeit disguised) signal. That’s great since you’ll conserve all of the spatial resolution (1920×1080), rather than sacrificing it by omitting a field (leaving you essentially with only 1920×540) or running it through a more complex “coffee grinder”.
The forced framerate conversion explained earlier is fortunately not noticeable to me at normal playback. However, if your cameras are capable of being set to 25p natively (i.e. because it’s a worldcam or because it’s a segregated European version) and 25p doesn’t cause any flicker with your lighting in a 60 Hz country (as was fortunately the case with Memo Sauceda’s professional LED light), be a purist and set your cameras to 25p as long as you are not additionally making a local recording for use on traditional broadcast in an ex-NTSC country (i.e. the United States and most other countries in the Americas). If you do that, then set your Ecamm Live Pro to stream 25p also. On the other hand, if you are making a local recording at ≈29.97p for subsequent traditional broadcast, then indeed set the camera to ≈29.97p. But since we know that the signal reaching Ecamm Live via one of these inexpensive HDMI capture sticks is 25p, set Ecamm Live Pro to stream 25p in any case. It is silly to stream more frames than those that actually exist, since it’s a waste of your available bandwidth budget, which is better served to have less compression on each of the 25 frames per second being streamed.
I am amazed at how well these extremely inexpensive HDMI capture sticks can facilitate accomplishing these essential tasks simultaneously at such a low cost:
They indirectly cure type 1, 2 or 3 camera shyness by accepting 4K UHD, which is always true to the native desired framerate and is always undoubtedly progressive.
They alleviate your computer (and your software) from downscaling 4K UHD to 1080p by doing it externally in a much better way than what shy cameras are capable of doing.
They interface to your computer via the nearly ubiquitous USB 3.0 connection, not the much more rare Thunderbolt.
The more expensive ≈US$130 Elgato CamLink 4K indeed has its virtues, but not for the explained task described in this article. For live streaming in 2020, these inexpensive HDMI capture sticks do more for us at over 84% savings in cost. Fortunately for Elgato, they are already selling more than then can build, so they shouldn’t be too upset about this article.
No manufacturer is specifically paying Allan Tépper or TecnoTur LLC to write this article or the mentioned books. Allan Tépper has no financial connection to any of the capture cards mentioned in this article. Some of the other manufacturers listed above have contracted Tépper and/or TecnoTur LLC to carry out consulting and/or translations/localizations/transcreations. Some of the manufacturers listed above have sent Allan Tépper review units. So far, none of the manufacturers listed above is/are sponsors of the TecnoTur , BeyondPodcastingCapicúaFM or TuSaludSecreta programs, although they are welcome to do so, and some are, may be (or may have been) sponsors of ProVideo Coalition magazine. Some links to third parties listed in this article and/or on this web page may indirectly benefit TecnoTur LLC via affiliate programs. Allan Tépper’s opinions are his own. Allan Tépper is not liable for misuse or misunderstanding of information he shares.
Copyright and use of this article
The articles contained in the TecnoTur channel in ProVideo Coalitionmagazine are copyright Allan Tépper/TecnoTur LLC, except where otherwise attributed. Unauthorized use is prohibited without prior approval, except for short quotes which link back to this page, which are encouraged!
The Art of the Cut podcast brings the fantastic conversations that Steve Hullfish has with world renowned editors into your car, living room, editing suite and beyond. In each episode, Steve talks with editors ranging from emerging stars to Oscar and Emmy winners. Hear from the top editors of today about their careers, editing workflows and about their work on some of the biggest films and TV shows of the year.
On todays episode of the Art of the Cut Podcast Steve talks with editors John Axelrad & Jared Simon about their new film “Antebellum.” You likely remember John from his previous time on Art of the Cut when he talked to Steve about his work on “Ad Astra.” John also edited films like “The Lost City of Z” & “Crazy Heart.” Jared was Johns first assistant editor on “Antebellum” and also worked with him on “Ad Astra.” Enjoy the episode!
Todays episode of the Art of the Cut Podcast is brought to you by Filmtools.com, Hollywoods trusted one-stop shop for all things production and post. Make sure to use coupon code AOTC10 for 10% off thousands of products when shopping on Filmtools.com. Save big on your next equipment purchase with Filmtools!
Avid believes that no editor should be an island, and the company is introducing solutions that work for a hybrid Media Composer-Premiere Pro workflow or all-Premiere Pro workflow.
No editor should be an island—no matter what video editing software they use. That’s the reason why Avid is breaking new ground by enabling content creators and video editors who use Adobe Premiere Pro to collaborate seamlessly in Avid-based production environments. It’s time to, says the company, “break down content silos and deliver content faster with media asset management and shared storage solutions that work for a hybrid Media Composer-Premiere Pro workflow or all-Premiere Pro workflow.”
Yes, that’s exactly Avid’s goal. The upcoming release of its MediaCentral | Panel for Adobe Premiere Pro–a lightweight software plugin that enables Premiere Pro editors to connect with post-production workflows for news and sports —offers the full advantage of Avid storage, asset management and team collaboration. This integration enables editors to browse, search, access and edit content and metadata without ever leaving Adobe Premiere Pro.
More efficient media production workflow
To fully explain how it works, the company will be hosting the Breaking the Content Silo Webinar for the creative community, which will highlight the new integrated workflow, on Thursday, Sept. 24 at 2 p.m. Eastern/11 a.m. Pacific. Register for Avid’s Breaking the Content Silo Webinar or visit Avid’s webpage dedicated to the subject to learn more.
The latest release of the Avid MediaCentral platform with MediaCentral | Panel for Adobe Premiere Pro lets digital-first content creators reach into the linear production team’s media library, share their assets and projects, and collaborate with other editors and content contributors from anywhere around the globe. This enables a more efficient media production workflow environment, allowing teams that create content for digital platforms, social media and marketing to easily share and deliver content on the same infrastructure used by broadcast teams.
“We’re bridging together the two largest communities of professional creative tools users and solving common problems that get in the way of everyone trying to evolve faster and work more collaboratively,” said Ray Thompson, Director of Market Solutions, Broadcast and Media at Avid. “Today, digital first production teams and marketing departments that rely on Adobe Premiere Pro now can seamlessly work in Avid production environments leveraging industry-proven production and asset management and storage solutions to browse, search, edit, share and distribute content easily. We’re just getting started with Adobe to make enhancements we know our users will welcome.”
Real-time remote collaboration
“Creators and editors want powerful creative capabilities in the storytelling process–but they also want speed to get great content out as quickly as possible,” said Van Bedient, Head of Strategic Development at Adobe. “The Media Central | Panel for Adobe Premiere Pro enables powerful collaborative workflows in Avid production environments, allowing creatives to keep pace with the demands of news and sports content production.”
To simplify the complexities of managing today’s enterprise news organizations, MediaCentral | Panel for Adobe Premiere Pro brings unparalleled levels of real-time remote collaboration and security that enable Adobe Premiere Pro users to work on projects within the Avid Nexis storage solution on premises or from a remote location. With phonetic search, multiplatform delivery and send to playback, the new media and asset management capabilities provide global news organizations with the ability to more seamlessly add Adobe Premiere Pro clients.
Avid’s MediaCentral | Panel for Adobe Premiere Pro will be available in early October.
This week on MacBreak Studio, I take a look at 3D tracking using a private beta version of mTracker 3D from MotionVFX.com, a new plugin that lets you track 2D images, 3D text, and 3D objects to video footage in both Motion and Final Cut Pro X. Here I’m focussed on Final Cut Pro X since it has a broader user base, and although you can’t manipulate the tracker as much as you can in Motion, you can still do some pretty impressive things with it in Final Cut. I’ve been tracking 3D text to video clips in particular, since the 3D text feature of Final Cut is almost exactly the same as it is in Motion, which is to say very fully featured with a huge number of material options, multiple material capability, a variety of lighting options, and environment lighting options as well.
The tracker is stunningly simple compared to the steps you may be used to when creating a 3D track in other applications like Fusion or Syntheyes. It’s not as flexible, but it’s just a single click to track your footage. No solver, no point cloud, no entering camera data. Once tracked, you click in the scene to select a point for the object you want to place in the scene. Then, you copy the track data and paste it to your object, which in Final Cut needs to be one of the elements from the plugin. Thankfully, they include a good variety of 2D drop zones, 2D and 3D text, and all the brand new 3D USDZ models from Motion’s library.
I used 3D text as my example because you can include a shadow and a reflection if you want, which you can’t do with 3D objects. It does take a bit of tweaking to get the track just right since your initial placement may not be at the correct z-depth location so the object (text in this case) may appear to slide. But overall you can create a convincing track in just a few minutes.
mTracker 3D is in private beta with an expected Q4 release date, but they are taking preorders now. Many more examples on their site, but know they did a lot of extra work to make those composites convincing!
Optimized for handling data-intensive applications, the new Samsung 980 PRO SSD is ideal for professionals who work with 4K and 8K content. But you need to have PCIe 4.0.
Samsung Electronics America unveiled the company’s first consumer PCIe 4.0 NVMe solid-state drive (SSD) – the Samsung 980 PRO. The new 980 PRO is designed for professionals and consumers who want cutting-edge performance in their high-end PCs, workstations and game consoles. The promise of next-level SSD performance is there, but one note of caution: you need to have PCIe 4.o to take full advantage of the new drive.
Optimized for handling data-intensive applications, the 980 PRO is ideal for consumers and professionals who work with 4K and 8K content and play graphics-heavy games. All of the key components, including the custom Elpis controller, V-NAND and DRAM, are completely designed in-house to deliver the full potential of PCIe 4.0. This allows the 980 PRO to provide sequential read and write speeds of up to 7,000 MB/s and 5,000 MB/s respectively, as well as random read and write speeds of up to 1,000K IOPS, making it up to two times faster than PCIe 3.0 SSDs and up to 12.7 times faster than SATA SSDs.
Test system configuration
To better understand the numbers provided by Samsung it is important to know the test system configuration for the Samsung 980 PRO PCIe 4.0 NVMe solid-state drive (SSD) . Here is the key info about the PC used: AMD Ryzen 9 3900X 12-Core Processor CPU@3.79GHz, DDR4 2666MHz 16GBx2, OS-Windows 10 Pro 64bit, Chipset-ASUS-X570-ROG CROSSHAIR VIII FORMULA.
As always, it is important to note that performance may vary depending on the SSD’s firmware version and the system hardware & system configuration. Performance measurements, says Samsung, “are based on IOmeter 1.1.0. The write performances were measured with Intelligent TurboWrite technology being activated. The sequential write performances after Intelligent TurboWrite region are: up to 500 MB/s(250GB), 1,000MB/s(500GB) and 2,000 MB/s(1TB).” The data related to how faster the drive is related to SATA SSDs is also based on a comparison made with the sequential read speed of Samsung PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSDs and SATA SSDs.
In addition to enhanced performance, the 980 PRO comes with, the company claims, “outstanding thermal control solutions for improved reliability.” While most of today’s high-performance NVMe SSDs rely on external copper heatsinks to diffuse heat, Samsung’s 980 PRO employs a nickel coating on the controller as well as a heat spreader label on the back side of the SSD for efficient thermal management. These innovative heat-dissipating functions also allow the drive to maintain its compact and slim M.2 form factor. Samsung’s Dynamic Thermal Guard technology further ensures that the drive’s temperature stays at the optimal level, minimizing performance fluctuations over the long haul.
2TB will be available by the end of 2020
“Over the years, Samsung has continuously challenged the limits of high-speed flash memory storage solutions,” said Dr. Mike Mang, vice president of Memory Brand Product Biz at Samsung Electronics. “The new 980 PRO SSD reflects our continuing commitment to delivering exceptional products consumers have come to expect from Samsung.”
The Samsung SSD 980 PRO comes in 1TB, 500GB and 250GB models, and will be available worldwide starting this month, while the 2TB capacity model will be available by the end of this year. The 980 PRO’s manufacturer’s suggested retail prices start at $89.99 for the 250GB model, $149.99 for the 500GB model, and $229.99 for the 1TB model. For more information, including warranty details, follow the link to Samsung’s webpage dedicated to storage.
My long time readers know that exact 30 fps hasn’t been a television standard since before 1953. That was the year that the United States added color to the prior greyscale (“black and white”) television system and simultaneously changed the framerate to ≈29.97 (and the field rate to ≈59.94). They also know that for years I have been encouraging camera manufacturers to display these non-integer framerates to at least two decimals in camera menus to avoid havoc among novice users. Fortunately, Canon & Panasonic (to a lesser degree) have fulfilled my requests in recent cameras, while JVC & Sony have stubbornly maintained their irresponsible practice of rounding framerates in menus, in Sony’s case in cameras under ≈US$5000. So what’s up with the Sony Xperia 1 II Android phone which seems to offer 23.98, 29.97 and 59.94 in Sony Cinema Pro, an app which “competes” with FiLMiC Pro even though it’s not available as a standalone product? This is all clarified ahead, together with requests for camera manufacturers and software developers.
Refresher about VFR versus CFR
As I have covered in several past articles, video recording in mobile phones and tablets is not the common CFR (constant framerate) found in camcorders and traditional TV studios, but VFR (variable framerate).
When we set a framerate in an app like the renowned FiLMiC Pro, for example: 24, 25 or 30 (see screenshot above), they are actually just targets and we should interpret the menu to be saying ≈24, ≈25 or ≈30. The recording actually varies continually (based upon the complexity or simplicity of a scene) both above and below the target rate to save bandwidth. The recorded material is later conformed (adjusted) to a desired framerate at CFR after manually setting a project in a compatible editor before adding the first clip to the timeline. Some examples of those final desired distribution framerates include:
≈23.976 (aka ≈23.98) which is actually a rounded number from the result of 24/1.001 (for television in ex-NTSC regions or for the web)
50 exact (not recommended for final delivery unless you are covering sports or video gaming) (for television broadcast in ex-PAL regions, especially for sports channels)
≈59.94 which is actually a rounded number from the result of 60/1.001 (not recommended for final delivery unless you are covering sports or video gaming) (for broadcast television in ex-NTSC regions)
60 exact (only for gaming, not for traditional on-air broadcast)
Some apps capable of this have us set the desired framerate via the user interface/UI (i.e. Adobe Premiere Pro CC and Apple Final Cut Pro) while creating a project manually, before dragging the first clip. With a capable app like iMovie for macOS but which no longer offers this setting in the UI, you can do it using a workaround as explained in this article. If you use a video editor that does not support VFR footage satisfactorily, you can always transcode to a CFR format first.
The irony of the non-integer framerates listed in Sony Xperia 1 II’s Cinema Pro app
Sony’s Cinema Pro app is exclusive to the Xperia 1, Xperia 1 II and Xperia 5 smartphones from Sony. The Sony Cinema Pro app is not sold or available for official download for other Android devices. Although this app “competes” with the renowned FiLMiC Pro, Sony happens to be one of two Android smartphone manufacturers which officially work so far with FiLMiC Pro’s new clean HDMI output (covered here and here). The other manufacturer is Samsung. (I really hope Google and Motorola will be next.)
When I first saw the offerings of 23.98, 29.97 and 59.94 in this Sony combination, it was a double shock:
Because Android, iOS and iPadOS recordings have only been available as VFR, not as CFR.
Because for true cinema use in a DCI theater, we would need exact 24, not ≈23.976 (aka 23.98) which is the broadcast-friendly version.
My wonderment ended abruptly when I asked Daniel Hernández Portugués (Lead Android Engineer / FiLMiC Inc.). I figured Daniel probably must have access to a Sony Android smartphone to test since FiLMiC had vetted Android devices from Sony and from Samsung for the new clean HDMI feature. Fortunately, Daniel does have access to one and determined that despite the framerates being listed as 23.98, 29.97 and 59.94 (which insinuate both numeric precision and CFR), in reality, Sony’s Cinema Pro app is actually recording VFR. Here is the report about the requested 23.98 file from Sony’s Cinema Pro:
The above report was generated by the MediaInfo app, which I covered at the end of this recent article Review: Invisor media file inspector for macOS since the MediaInfo app offers similar features to the Invisor app although is multiplatform. (¡Muchas gracias Daniel!)
Conclusions and petition to developers/manufacturers
We now know that Sony’s Cinema Pro app in Sony’s Xperia 1 II smartphone is actually recording VFR (not CFR) and that when requesting 23.98 in the menu, it can actually record a minimum of 23.904 FPS and a maximum of 24.019 FPS (or more extreme numbers). What can we conclude from this is the following:
Sony’s inclusion the non-integer framerates in the menu for marketing reasons only, not because it records CFR.
The implied precision with two decimal points in this case is actually even more deceiving then when standalone conventional cameras round the actual non-integer, broadcast friendly rates of ≈23.976 (actually 24/1.001), ≈29.97 (actually 30/1.001) and ≈59.94 (actually 60/1.001).
JVC, Sony and other camera manufacturers who are still deceiving users and editors in some of your models: Please release a free firmware update to correct all of your remaining cameras to display non-integer framerates in all camera menus to at least two decimals. Please display those non-integer framerates as:
23.976 (or 23.98 if you really don’t have space for 23.976)
47.952 or 47.95 if you really don’t have space for 47.952 (if this rare rate is included)
to stop confusing novice users and editors and causing havoc. Please note that Canon has thankfully fixed this prior deception even in is consumer models as low as ≈US$550 like the M100. Panasonic has thankfully fixed it with cameras like the GH5, GH5S and higher models, but not with lower models so far to my knowledge.
Apple, Cinema FV–5, Ecamm Live, FiLMiC, MoviePro, Sony Cinema Pro and other software developers: Whenever you record or stream VFR, please list the framerates appropriately with the ≈ symbol to indicate an approximation:
≈48 (if included)
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
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No manufacturer is specifically paying Allan Tépper or TecnoTur LLC to write this article or the mentioned books. Some of the other manufacturers listed above have contracted Tépper and/or TecnoTur LLC to carry out consulting and/or translations/localizations/transcreations. Many of the manufacturers listed above have sent Allan Tépper review units. So far, none of the manufacturers listed above is/are sponsors of the TecnoTur , BeyondPodcastingCapicúaFM or TuSaludSecreta programs, although they are welcome to do so, and some are, may be (or may have been) sponsors of ProVideo Coalition magazine. Some links to third parties listed in this article and/or on this web page may indirectly benefit TecnoTur LLC via affiliate programs. Allan Tépper’s opinions are his own. Allan Tépper is not liable for misuse or misunderstanding of information he shares.
Copyright and use of this article
The articles contained in the TecnoTur channel in ProVideo Coalitionmagazine are copyright Allan Tépper/TecnoTur LLC, except where otherwise attributed. Unauthorized use is prohibited without prior approval, except for short quotes which link back to this page, which are encouraged!