An Overview of the Film Editing Process

Traditionally, working with film required a lot of manual labor: making physical splices in film, sifting through cluttered film bins, spooling reels, and meticulously labeling film footage. To simplify this process, pioneering filmmakers looked to the digital breakthroughs in video post-production. Many filmmakers now believe that the best approach is to eliminate film altogether and replace it with high definition video, whose quality rivals that of film. For those who continue working in film, they must first transfer their footage to video before they can enjoy the benefits of digital video editing. This process of transferring film to video, called the telecine process, is where Cinema Tools enters the workflow. Once a video sequence is edited, an editor must go back to the original film negative and cut it so that it matches the video. Using the information gathered during the telecine session, Cinema Tools considerably speeds up this final conforming process.

The following information provides an overview of the film editing process, identifying the parts played by Final Cut Pro and Cinema Tools.

About the Telecine Process

During a telecine session, sections of film rolls are transferred to videotape or directly to a hard disk. A computer file, known as a telecine log, keeps track of which film frames are transferred to video.

In addition to keeping track of the film frame-to-video frame relationship, the telecine log also contains scene and take number information, film format and speed, and, if the audio is synchronized to the video during the telecine process, the audio timecode from the master audio source.

About Edge Code

Both film and video record frames and produce large numbers of frames over time. Editors and editing machines need to find frames efficiently and reliably, so film and video both have ways to uniquely count and identify frames. Film uses edge code, which can be KeyKode (developed by Kodak and also known as keycode) or ink numbers printed on the edge of the film. Video uses timecode, stored in a timecode track.

Both edge code and timecode are based on simple frame counters: each time a frame advances, the frame counter increases by one. But the similarity ends there. Edge code equates frames with film length, so a certain number of frames equals a foot (thus the origin of the word footage). Timecode equates frames with time—for example, in PAL video, 25 frames equals one second.

Edge code looks like this:

KJ 29 1234 5678+02

The first eight characters (KJ 29 1234) identify the film manufacturer and include an identification number for the film roll. The final six numbers (5678+02) actually identify specific frame numbers. The first four numbers (5678) are the footage count (the number of feet of film), with the last two numbers (+02) counting the frames for that foot of film (16 frames with 4-perf 35mm, the most common film format).

Timecode looks like this:


Timecode numbers represent hours, minutes, seconds, and frames, respectively.

About Burned-in Timecode on Video

Most telecine facilities offer the ability to permanently superimpose, or burn in, edge code and timecode numbers over your video transfer from film. This is useful whether or not you have a telecine log file:

  • If you have a telecine log file: The burned-in numbers make it easy to verify that the entries in the database are correct. Additionally, in cases where the video has had a 3:2 pull-down applied, letters are added after the key number to indicate the frame type. This helps when configuring the reverse telecine process, which removes the added frames and restores the video to its original film frame rate.
  • If you don’t have a telecine log file: The burned-in numbers make it much easier to manually enter the records in the Cinema Tools database.

If you do not have burned-in numbers, you generally have to use a list that matches up with hole-punched film frames at the head of each clip.

A consideration regarding using video with burned-in numbers is whether the final edited video will be shown to others. If not, having the burned-in numbers is very helpful and they should be included. If it is going to be shown, you may want to have the telecine facility use a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, which leaves sufficient blank space to place the numbers without covering up any video. Alternatively, if the edited output is to be used as a clean master, you can choose to have the burned-in numbers appear only on the first frame of each clip.

Importing a Telecine Log to Create a Cinema Tools Database

Each time a shot is transferred from film to video during a telecine session, an entry is made in the telecine log, containing the edge code start number and the corresponding timecode start number on video. The ending edge code and timecode numbers are also recorded. When you import a telecine log, Cinema Tools creates a database that tracks the relationship between video clips in Final Cut Pro and your original film footage. As you edit, you refine video clip start and end times. At any time, Cinema Tools can use the information in the database to map a video clip start or end time in Final Cut Pro to the corresponding edge code of the original film.

Exporting a Film Cut List

In basic terms, a Final Cut Pro sequence is a series of start and end timecode values from different source tapes. A film sequence is similar: a series of start and end edge code numbers from various film reels. When you finish editing your sequence in Final Cut Pro, you need to generate a list of edge code start and end times, known as a cut list, so that a film negative cutter can match the sequence you created in Final Cut Pro. As long as you properly created a Cinema Tools database before you started editing, generating a cut list is easy.

About the Cinema Tools Database

A Cinema Tools database is the heart of any Final Cut Pro film editing project. The database is similar to a spreadsheet in which each row represents a single clip shot on film and transferred to video. Each row contains columns such as name, edge code start, edge code end, timecode start, timecode end, film roll number, video reel number, scene number, take number, camera information, and so on. These numbers map your Final Cut Pro clips and media files back to the original film footage so you can create film cut lists from video footage edited in Final Cut Pro.