Editing Film Digitally

Computer technology is changing the film-creation process. Most feature-length films are now edited digitally, using sophisticated and expensive nonlinear editors designed for that specific purpose. Until recently, this sort of tool has not been available to filmmakers on a limited budget.

Cinema Tools provides Final Cut Pro with the functionality of systems costing many times more at a price that all filmmakers can afford. If you are shooting with 35mm or 16mm film and want to edit digitally and finish on film, Cinema Tools allows you to edit video transfers from your film using Final Cut Pro and then generate an accurate cut list that can be used to finish the film.

Even if you do not intend to conform the original camera negative, as in a digital intermediate workflow, Cinema Tools provides a variety of tools for capturing and processing your film’s video. See About the Digital Intermediate Process for more information.

How Does Cinema Tools Help You Edit Your Film?

For many, film still provides the optimum medium for capturing images. And, if your goal is a theatrical release or a showing at a film festival, you may need to provide the final movie on film. Using Final Cut Pro with Cinema Tools does not change the process of exposing the film in the camera or projecting the final movie in a theater—it’s the part in between that takes advantage of the advances in technology.

Editing film has traditionally involved the cutting and splicing together of a film workprint, a process that is time-consuming and tends to discourage experimenting with alternative scene versions. Transferring the film to video makes it possible to use a nonlinear editor (NLE) to edit your project. The flexible nature of an NLE makes it easy to put together each scene and gives you the ability to try different edits. The final edited video is generally not used—the edit decisions you make are the real goal. They provide the information needed to cut and splice (conform) the original camera negative into the final movie. The challenge is in matching the timecode of the video edits with the key numbers of the film negative so that a negative cutter can accurately create a film-based version of the edit.

This is where Cinema Tools comes in. Cinema Tools tracks the relationship between the original camera negative and the video transfer. Once you have finished editing with Final Cut Pro, you can use Cinema Tools to generate a cut list based on the edits you made. Armed with this list, a negative cutter can transform the original camera negative into the final film.

Figure. Diagram showing a basic film workflow using Final Cut Pro and Cinema Tools.

If your production process involves workprint screenings and modifications, you can also use Cinema Tools to create change lists that describe what needs to be done to a workprint to make it match the new version of the sequence edited in Final Cut Pro. See Basic Film Workflow Steps for more details about this workflow.

What Cinema Tools Does

Cinema Tools tracks all of the elements that go into the making of the final film. It knows the relationship between the original camera negative, the transferred videotapes, and the captured video clips on the editing computer. It works with Final Cut Pro to store information about how the video clips are being used and generates the cut list required to transform the original camera negative into the final edited movie.

Cinema Tools also checks for problems that can arise while using Final Cut Pro, the most common one being duplicate uses of source material: using a shot (or a portion of it) more than once. Besides creating duplicate lists, you can use Cinema Tools to generate other lists, such as one dealing with opticals—the placement of transitions, motion effects (video at other than normal speed), and titles.

Cinema Tools can also work with the production audio, tracking the relationship between the audio used by Final Cut Pro and the original production audio sources. It is possible to use the edited audio from Final Cut Pro when creating an Edit Decision List (EDL) and process (or finish) the audio at a specialized audio post-production facility.

It’s important to understand that you use Final Cut Pro only to make the edit decisions—the final edited video output is not typically used, since the video it is edited from generally is compressed and includes burned-in timecode (window burn) and film information. It is the edit-based cut list that you can generate with Cinema Tools that is the goal.

About the Digital Intermediate Process

As movies become more sophisticated and the demand for digitally generated special effects grows, the digital intermediate process, also known as DI, has become increasingly important to filmmakers. This process often starts with a high-quality scan of the original film. This scan results in extremely high-quality video, often in the form of digital picture exchange (DPX) image sequences whose quality rivals or surpasses that of film. This high-quality video can then be edited, manipulated, and color corrected digitally. The big difference between this process and the telecine-based film editing process described previously is that the DI process does not actually conform the original camera negative—instead, the final digital output is either printed to film or distributed directly.

The term DI is also used to describe the editing, digital manipulation, and color correction processes used when the source of the video is a high-resolution camera system that does not use film at all, such as the RED ONE camera.

The video clips created most often during this process are referred to as 2K video image sequences. An image sequence is actually a folder containing individual image files for each video frame. Because of the large size of these video clips, they are not generally edited directly. Instead, lower-resolution versions of the files are created, usually based on the Apple ProRes 422 codec, and then edited.

Once the edit is finished, the next step is to use Color to apply any needed color correction. This color correction is applied to the original 2K media. To accomplish this, an Edit Decision List (EDL) is exported from Final Cut Pro. This EDL is used to match the edits to the 2K media, allowing Color to conform and color correct the 2K media.

Cinema Tools databases can be used in this process to match the EDL to the 2K media, linking the reel names and timecode of each edit to entries in a database created from a folder of 2K image sequence clips. Using a Cinema Tools database provides powerful tools to diagnose and resolve any issues that occur, such as nonmatching reel names.

See Basic Digital Intermediate Workflow Steps and Digital Intermediate Workflow Using a Telecine for details about this workflow.

Figure. Diagram showing a basic digital intermediate workflow using Cinema Tools, Final Cut Pro, and Color.