Film Journal: Week 7- Locked

Don't bother me, I'm picture locking.

Don’t bother me, I’m picture locking.

So there’s this dreaded deadline called “Picture Lock” which is what happens when you are editing a movie and you have the images looking the way you want them. You “lock” the picture so that you can then concentrate on sound editing and music knowing that the timing of the film won’t change.

Since I was the picture-editor (as opposed to the sound editor) on the film that we just produced that meant that I was responsible for getting the movie all cut together by the Picture Lock deadline. I knew it was coming and I knew that it was a much dreaded deadline for which students would spend hours feverishly glued to the computer at the eleventh hour trying to make those last minute tweaks that they had put off.

I swore to myself that I would not be one of those students. I promised myself that I wouldn’t procrastinate or underestimate the amount of time that I would need to make a quality product. So I planned my editing time accordingly. And we were in pretty good shape until our Picture Lock deadline jumped forward by sixteen hours: from 1pm on Friday to 8pm on Thursday night. We found out about this at 11pm on Wednesday.

“No matter,” I told myself. “We’re in good shape and will still have the whole day on Thursday to fine tune and color correct.”

This was true: we had a fine cut screening with professors and student assistants at 9am Thursday morning and then the rest of the day dedicated to editing. I felt confident that this was still plenty of time to make the necessary changes without having our backs up against the wall.

So we had our screening, got our notes, and headed straight down to the Post Production Lab to get to work. Which was when we learned that every single Avid station was booked up until noon for classes. This was not good news. It took hard work to take it calmly. I was with the director at the time, so we deliberated on how we could stay productive while we waited for a station to open up. Perhaps, we thought, we could walk through all our edits on paper and then come down to cut it together right at noon.

Then a benefactor of great wisdom, who shall remain nameless to keep them out of trouble, pointed out that no one was using the color correction suites at the moment and that the color correction machines also had Avid on them… We immediately signed up.

The color correction suites could only be checked out for an hour at a time and didn’t have audio jacks, which was a down side, but did at least let us do the broad strokes of our picture editing while we waited for the main Avid labs to open up. We made most of the progress with our final cut during these few borrowed hours- running back and forth to the Post Production window to sign in for a new hour each time the clock came around to the top of the hour.

By the afternoon we felt like we were back on track. There was still plenty of work to be done, but we had the broad strokes in place. We immediately went to work making sure that the audio was lined up, making a few adjustments, and getting outside opinions on whether the story was coming through. And then when 5pm rolled around we hit our next snag: the server that we were editing on ran out of space and refused to render any more effects.

Now, this wasn’t an effect heavy film: we had reversed the motion on a handful of shots and created very basic black-and-white credits, but all in all it was nothing elaborate. But we had imported an entire classic film into the project that we were using for audio and reference. I thought I was importing a 400Mb file. Turns out that Avid turned it into a 79Gb file which it then hid in a folder that I would never have known to look in. Once we found it we had to decide whether we wanted to delete it. We were pretty much only using audio from the film with the exception of a short “The End” title card at the end. We decided we could live without the “The End” if we really had to, but if we deleted the giant video files would we also lose the audio files? We wouldn’t have time to re-load it if we did.

We managed to get the video file deleted and the audio files protected and a new clip of just the “The End” Title card that we wanted with plenty of render space to be able to flop clips and reverse actions and write credits. We had a spare hour left before our deadline- never mind that we’d lost ninety minutes to technical difficulties. The Director and Cinematographer went off to the color correction suite while I rebuilt all our credits. One of the virtues of Avid, we learned the hard way, was that it could be used on multiple machines at the same time, which meant that as long as I was working on a separate timeline in a separate bin from the one my trio mates were using then we could both work at the same time.

Color correction wrapped up at just about the same time that I finished the credits. We pasted the two timelines together and sat and watched the whole film to make sure there weren’t any problems. A tiny tweak here, a minor correction there and we began the video mixdown at 8:10. Picture was locked.

Now that Picture Lock is over, my feelings have cooled a little bit about the whole ordeal, but there was more than a little bit of suppressed annoyance at the time. The process felt very unprofessional: that at every step of the way we were given inaccurate or incomplete information about deadlines, space limitations, equipment access, support, etc and yet we were still expected to hit the bullseye on an ever shifting target.

Was this really all just the fallout from the program switching over to a “new” process? Was it really that unclear that Picture Lock was being moved from the Friday date on the syllabus to the Thursday night date when the SA was in class and no one knew until the day before?! Or is this all part of the curriculum that we just aren’t allowed to be aware of: a secondary track of fire drills and obstacle courses designed to train us for the shifting sands of the “Real World”?

The Realist part of me goes back to Occam’s Razor by which the first scenario seems more likely: miscommunication, politics, and disorganization are the physics of reality after all. But a tiny little Conspiracy Theorist part of me wants to believe that it was all a deliberate test to see how well we handle the unexpected and what kind of work we can still put out in less than ideal conditions. Then, at least, we have something to fight against and something to prove.


~ by Gwydhar Gebien on February 17, 2014.

One Response to “Film Journal: Week 7- Locked”

  1. It’s surprising how much the film production world parallel’s the business world. Your master’s in film is eerily similar to that of mine in Project Management…

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