Freelance Lessons Learned on a Long Multi-Cam Edit

There is nothing that changes how you approach editing like being asked to work on a really long project that requires great attention to detail.

I learned this when I took on a project to edit a 2-hour high school volleyball tournament. The project covered everything from the pre-game to the awards ceremony.

I edited this project a little over a year ago in Final Cut Pro 7. Through the experience, I learned a lot about client management, multi-cam editing, and media management when there is a large volume of material.

While the project didn’t end the way I had hoped, it did help me become a better editor.

The project details

Here’s a breakdown of what I had to do on the post production end:

  • Transcode 10 SDHC cards of AVCHD media from 3 HMC-150 cameras into Apple Pro Res 422, which would be synced together through a multi-cam edit.

  • Sync footage from 3 different cameras together with audio that came from a radio broadcast of the game, which had all commercial breaks recorded to it.

  • Create custom motion graphics for the overall tournament which included a custom intro/outro, transitions and 65 lower thirds for all the players, sponsors, staff and more.

  • Output to DVD with a custom menu and chapter links which would be sold to the general public.

To say the least, I was eager to take on a project of this magnitude, even though I was much more used to doing shorter projects with a faster turn-around.

My approach to the edit and the issues I encountered

I was given this project by my production director because of prior work I did. He believed that the way I edit was well suited for this particular project, in spite of its length. Once I picked up the SD cards, I had a road map of how I would approach the project to make the best use of time. What I didn’t expect was the tidal wave of frustration I was in for.

For the sake of this article, I will focus on the issues that made it difficult to produce the first rough-cut of the overall tournament. The issues involved dealing with transcoding 300 GB of AVCHD media, project management, multi-cam editing and client relations.

Transcoding problems and how ClipWrap saved the day

Using FCP 7’s log and transfer option, I began transcoding the footage into Pro Res. Everything started off working just fine.

To keep things organized, I had created bins before I started log and transfer. There was a bin for each game of the tournament. I setup the bins so transcoded footage would be placed in the right one automatically, rather than dragging everything in manually.

In the middle of capturing footage from the third SD card, FCP wouldn’t recognize the card. The card showed up on the desktop and had MTS files on it. I tried restarting FCP 7 and that didn’t work. I tried restarting my computer and that didn’t work. I decided to save that card for later and move onto others to keep things moving.

Midway through the seventh SD card, I ran into an issue with a group of clips not transcoding. It appeared there was a digital glitch in a few frames on those clips. I tried transcoding around it by doing in and out points so that I didn’t lose whole clips. It would work for a bit, but then I would encounter multiple crashes.

Having spent almost 5 hours trying to resolve these issues, I did forum searches on Creative Cow and asked for help from the postproduction community on Twitter. I received a tip to use an app called ClipWrap from @thisisbpm. This app will transcode your MTS files into an editing codec even if you don’t have the original card structure from the SD card.

I purchased the app, tried it out and it was a godsend. It transcoded my footage into Pro Res and it seemed to do it quicker than FCP’s Log and Transfer option. For the rest of the SD cards, I used ClipWrap to transcode the footage and I imported the clips into bins according the significant moments of the tournament.

The next phase of the project involved dealing with out of memory errors and random crashes in the middle of big editing decisions.

Media management and splitting footage into project files

After I had finally transcoded and placed all the footage in the appropriate bins, it was finally time to assemble the first cut.

I had been given a rundown of all the events that took place from the pre-game introductions to the halftime show to the MVP award. I believed giving the pre game segments, the games themselves and other segments their own timelines would help manage the large volume of material.

At first, that seemed to do the trick, but one thing I had forgotten was that FCP doesn’t it like it when you have too much media in one project file. I had transcoded over 300 GB of footage from 10 cards. Final Cut’s performance had slowed down to the point where I was getting out of memory errors consistently. I ran through all the fixes for getting rid of that error and I realized that I would need to split the media across multiple projects.

I ended up splitting the footage across 7 project files, which addressed pregame moments, individual games, the half time show and the awards ceremony. When I needed to bring my edits together into one file, I would do self-contained exports, which were easier to move around.

That workflow seemed to prove the most efficient but also required the most space. Doing multi-cam edits was quite a learning experience to endure but glad I learned from it.

My multi-cam learning experience

Since the tournament was shot with 3 cameras, I decided a multi-cam edit would be the best course of action. I had done a few multi-cam edits before, but most of those pieces were on smaller scale. The issue I ran into with this project was finding proper sync points to cut back and forth from.

I had based most multi-cam syncing on timecode and had forgotten I could sync using in points. That helped for the most part, but I seemed to use Camera 1 (the master shot) more than the courtside cameras because the shooter on that camera had better experience shooting sports than the other shooters.

Unfortunately, the client wanted to see as many camera angles as possible despite the fact that Camera 1 had the best footage. I obliged his request and gave him what he wanted.

Doing multi-cam editing on this project was quite a learning experience because it challenged the way I was used to cutting. Since this wasn’t a technique I used on a regular basis, I ran into some bumps along the way that took more time to fix than much of the actual editing of the project.

After going through the first cut up until the final cut, things were hectic but not out of the ordinary until I was taken off the project at the DVD authoring stage.

The real project drama was off the court

The overall tournament was an important one to the client because it was something he had personally organized and got off the ground. In previous years, this tournament was streamed online and was available to watch after it was recorded. This was their first time creating a DVD to sell to the public.

After I received the project, I followed editor-client etiquette of keeping them in the loop and delivering rough cuts on DVD. I even tolerated dealing with multiple “cooks in the kitchen” after I had got past the third cut.

It wasn’t until I got to the final approval cut that I was blindsided by my production director. He decided to take me off the project because the project had taken longer than they intended. This confused me because I had done everything that was requested and hadn’t heard back from the client for a significant period of time after delivering the approval cut.

This was after I had put in 12-14 hour days while also teaching a night class at a vocational school. I didn’t understand what I had done to deserve this. Out of good faith I offered to fix any issues the client had for free to salvage my reputation.

They accepted my offer and ended up getting DVDs made a few weeks later. Thankfully, that was the end of the project. I had to work hard to get back into the good graces of my production director and producer, who was good friends with the client.

Lessons learned

Here are the lessons I learned from this project that changed how I edit now.

  • Don’t take on a project without knowing completely what you are in for. What I mean is that you should make sure the client explicitly explains exactly what they expect before they give you project. I let my eager need to work on a project get the better of me and paid for in the end.

  • Make sure everyone agrees on deadlines and the review process in advance. I ended up being blindsided because I didn’t deliver the project in time for an unspecified deadline. In this case, the client was a close personal friend of my producer, so it was difficult for me to limit the number of revisions and set review deadlines.

  • Decide in advance who the decision maker is. It really helps when there is one chef in the kitchen when final decisions are being made. In this case, the client added a new reviewer (his second in command) after I delivered the third review cut. Thankfully their feedback wasn’t wildly different, but it did complicate the lines of communication.

  • If you have a project that deals with footage that goes into the 100 GB and above territory, it’s best to split the project across multiple project files.

  • Try not to rely on techniques you haven’t used on more than 10 projects. Sometimes, you may think a new technique is the solution to your problem. It’s good to try out new techniques, so long as they are a small part of the overall project. If the technique doesn’t work, then you can always reverse course without throwing the project off course. If the project is going to be dependent on a new technique, in this case, multi-cam editing, then it can become a problem and you should resist the temptation to rely on something that is untested. I have more experience doing multi-cam edits now than I did a year ago, which makes it easier to tackle projects of this magnitude.

  • Have at least 2 or more ways of transcoding your footage should you run into any issues. Since I discovered ClipWrap, I no longer use Log and Transfer in FCP 7. If I need to know what clips I have before transcoding, I can review them in VLC player or MPlayer X.

I can now say that I’m a wiser editor for having gone through this experience. Since the project, I have expanded my editing skill set as well as apps that help with efficiency and management. Now, I’m looking for the project that will challenge me to go much further.