Tips for Switching to Premiere Pro from Media Composer

I let out a sigh and leaned over to pick up the mechanical pencil that had fallen off my desk. My fist was still clenched from hitting it on the desk seconds earlier in frustration. All I wanted to do was make an Add Edit just like I would have in Media Composer. Today, four months later, I now know to hit Cmd+K. But as someone who has spent the past seven years using Media Composer 40+ hours a week starting fresh in Premiere Pro had me feeling frustrated to say the least.

That’s why this post exists – so as a longtime Media Composer editor learning Premiere you have better expectations than I had.

Like most freelancers we have to constantly learn new skills and new software in order to keep finding work. In my case, I needed to learn Premiere. Years of Media Composer usage left me with habits tattooed on the way I think about using an NLE. The transition hasn’t been easy but it is doable. In this post I’ll share some of the main concepts to wrap your head around when you jump into Premiere for the first time. Then I’ll give some props to what I’ve been enjoying about Premiere and also lament the features that I miss which I had in Media Composer.

Legos vs. the Sandbox

Think back to when you were 6 years old. Maybe you were like me and you had a small table in the corner of your family room with all your Legos on it. Brick by brick you’d snap the pieces together. You’d build your castle or house or fort one brick at a time, each having a specific job. You’d pop the yellow head off of one of the knights, put armor on him then press his head back onto his body. Using Premiere feels a lot like this. Each clip in your timeline is like a Lego piece. The mouse is an extension of your hand and clip by clip you are building your digital castle or house or fort. Your Lego pieces are part of the whole, but in reality they are individual pieces.

While you could think about Media Composer in the same way, when you compare it to Premiere working in Media Composer feels more like building a sandcastle in a sandbox. For better or worse, each frame is a grain of sand. You feel that type of control in Media Composer. Each feature of your sandcastle is a clip. You can remove a tower and make a different tower but you are forever conscious that the tower is connected to the entire castle.

Let’s take this thinking down from 10,000ft and talk some specifics. At the end of the day you are still using an NLE and it’s going to act in ways that you are familiar with. Take your clip from a bin, put it into the Source Monitor, find an in and out point then edit it into your sequence. Repeat.

One big difference though is that when you actually hit the period key and do an Overwrite Edit. When you have four edit points (an in and out point in both the Source Monitor and on the timeline) a dialogue box will pop up. This doesn’t happen in Media Composer. The dialogue box called Fit Clip will let you decide which edit point to remove. This box will also pop up if the Source clip doesn’t have enough footage to fit the in and out points in the timeline giving you the option of slowing down the clip in order to make it fit – think like an automatic Fit-to-Fill in Media Composer.

Fit Clip.png

In Media Composer it’s assumed by default you don’t want to use the Source’s out point. So each time you do an Insert or Overwrite Edit you also have to make a selection in this dialogue box. You can turn it off. However, even I have to admit, it’s kinda handy sometimes. This dialogue box is a microcosm for how I feel about working in Premiere – it’s kinda handy sometimes. Let’s brush the sand off and get into some more specifics.

The Keyboard

As an editor who prides himself on being a master of the keyboard the thought of learning 100-200 new shortcuts excited me. But hitting Q and W to jump to in and out points for the past seven years is brutally difficult to un-learn. However Premiere makes it simple to 1) adjust their keyboard or 2) use a keyboard from Media Composer (also FCP).

I recommend giving the default keyboard a try and adjust as needed. My Q and W keys have changed to Media Composer’s but 90% of the rest of my keyboard has stayed the same.

Built in 3D Warp

Baked into every clip is essentially a 3D Warp. Select a clip and in the Effects Controls panel you can adjust parameters like scale, position, opacity and more. Each parameter can be keyframed.

Also when a clip with audio is selected you can adjust and keyframe the audio levels in the same panel. I’ve found that I use this over the Audio Mixer Tool 10 out of 10 times.

Markers

Markers work very similarly to what you’re used to in Media Composer. Markers can be placed on the timeline or on an individual clip when it’s selected. The Markers Tool shows a thumbnail of its position along with a title and description.

Also, just like Media Composer, Screenlight has a plugin that allows you to quickly import comments from your director or client.

It’s Adobe

If you’ve spent any time in After Effects, which I’d bet you have, you will feel comfortable right off the bat in Premiere. Actions act in a very similar fashion. Instead of building by layers like you would in AE you are building by clips (AKA Legos to some).

The interface feels familiar. Panels work the exact same way. Keyframing works nearly the same. You import and can organize folders just like you would in AE. You wouldn’t feel like a stranger jumping into Premiere the way a Premiere-only editor would jumping into Media Composer.

Rapid Fire

Let’s do some rapid fire on what’s awesome in Premiere and what I miss from Media Composer while cutting in Premiere.

Awesome

  • Having a million sequences open at once. Obviously that’s an exaggeration but having sequences tabbed in a panel has saved me a ton of time.
  • Copying and pasting effects and clips. It just works how you would expect it to. Select your Lego knights and with two keystrokes slap on their armor.
  • Keyboard shortcuts for default video and audio transitions.
  • Mapping Cmd/Ctrl and Opt/Alt to keys as shortcuts.
  • Snapping is lovely. And it does feel like playing with Legos.
  • The Title Tool

What I Miss

  • Quickly deleting tracks. It’s nice not to accidently delete a track but it takes entirely way too many clicks to remove a track.
  • Not having preset custom timeline views. I love the rigid, almost militaristic approach you can take to certain aspects of Media Composer. I just want every sequence to have the same exact look when I open it up and with Timeline Views in Media Composer you can do that.
  • Color Correction Mode in Media Composer.
  • Selecting or deselecting tracks with the keyboard.
  • Doing an Add Edit on black

Premiere Trainer, Jarle Leirpoll, has written a follow up post on ways to get around the things Josh misses.

Summing Up

Being a longtime editor of one NLE and making the transition into a new one is scary. We have so many habits built up from years in the dark edit bay. The good thing about Premiere is that you’re more than likely familiar with Adobe. It’s going to work how you expect it to work. It feels like After Effects but works like Media Composer in many of its functionalities.

Taking it slow, being in the application as often as possible and having an open mind will go a long way in picking up Premiere. There are many features that will be where you exact them. And some that’ll leave you scratching your head and banging your fist on the desk. Hit up Google, the forums, social media and follow this advice and you’ll figure it out. There’s a massive video editing community out there to help you grow as an editor.

If you already have a strong base in Media Composer, you’re going to pick up Premiere in no time. You got this.

You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” – Sir Richard Branson