The Soul of Nonlinear Editing

I keep thinking about Tom Ohanian’s series on the State of Digital Nonlinear Editing. Specifically these paragraphs in Part 10:

Content that is recorded will then be processed by a variety of AI application suites. Each suite will provide different functionality (e.g. tonal analysis, speech-to-text, etc.) based on the characteristics of the content. … Very rich, detailed, and comprehensive metadata about that content will result without the large number of humans currently associated with these tasks.

At that point, the user will be presented with the text associated with the content. Each word, with exact reference to its precise positioning within the data stream, will be indexed. Manipulation of text (e.g. cut, copy, paste), will, in effect, be the method of editing that content. Picture and sound will follow along. [Emphasis mine]

Readers of my blog know that I think machine learning is going to revolutionize the edit suite; mainly by reducing the need for Assistant Editors to perform ‘mechanical’ tasks like Ingesting, Sync-ing, and Grouping. But I don’t agree with Ohanian here. And I think his point of view, that editing is basically mechanical, represents one of the problems we face when trying to discuss the future of nonlinear editing.

Editing is a visceral experience. Full stop.

Editing will never be as easy as cutting and pasting text because what’s being said is often secondary to how something’s said. Think about the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. You could read transcripts all day long, but his anger is what left its lasting impact.

The primacy of subtext is applicable to all genres of editing, from the biggest tentpole blockbuster to most corporate HR training video. Anyone who’s listened to multiple reads of Voice Over will know firsthand that the same words spoken differently feel very different each and every time. What makes every editor unique is how these subtle differences inform their creative process.

The source/record metaphor is probably a dated way to interact with audio/video media; and smarter tools that assist the editor in finding and selecting media are needed. But I think “Marking IN and Marking OUT to create edit points” is going to be with us for a while because Marking IN and Marking OUT is editing. The problem isn’t the model, it’s that we need to expand our definition of literacy to include video.

Why the Roman Empire taught me about the importance of Diversity! (review)

I love learning about ancient history. So I am delighted to recommend Dr. Gregory S. Aldrete’s The Great Courses on audible: Rise of Rome and From Augustus to the Fall of Rome. But what truly surprised me about Dr. Aldrete’s thoughtful lecture series were what they taught me about the importance of diversity in today’s society.

It’s easy to think that we know so much about Roman History because so much of its history survives in the written form. From Julius Caesar’s account of the Gallic Wars, to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (a favorite of leaders from Churchill to Bill Clinton); it seems like every word Cicero uttered was written down, and even Rome’s poets like Ovid influence our ideas about art today.

Featured image by Mauricio Artieda on Unsplash.

But in reality our knowledge of the Roman Empire is limited to the extremely narrow focus of (1) Roman Citizens, who were (2) wealthy, (3) political active, and (4) men. A group that represented less than one half of one percent of the most diverse Empire of its time.

During his lectures, Dr. Aldrete brilliantly uses the few sources we have – tomb stones, graffiti preserved at Pompeii, letters from a Legionary found in Egypt – to try and tell us the stories of the rest of Rome’s citizenry. And through his grasping we feel the true tragedy of that lost knowledge.

Marble portrait bust of the emperor Gaius, known as Caligula, A.D. 37–41 Roman, Early Imperial, Julio-Claudian Marble; H. 20 in. (50.8 cm) length 7 1/16 in. (18 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1914 (14.37)

It is easy to be cynical about Vice Presidents for Inclusion and Diversity Initiatives. And we are right to be cynical! (I’ll let a much smarter man, David Foster Wallace, explain) But it’s a start; and if humanity makes it to the year 3,000, or 4,000, or beyond, it would be a real tragedy to deny future generations humanity’s collective perspectives. I’d even argue that the only way we’re going to make it there is by including everyone’s diverse points-of-view.

Recorder. A perfect Machine Learning use case.

Atlas Obscura and the New Yorker report on a new documentary about a remarkable woman, Marion Stokes, who recorded 70,000 (!!) hours of television on VHS tapes from 1975 until 2012.

Marion Stokes was secretly recording television twenty-four hours a day for thirty years. It started in 1979 with the Iranian Hostage Crisis at the dawn of the twenty-four hour news cycle. It ended on December 14, 2012 while the Sandy Hook massacre played on television as Marion passed away. In between, Marion recorded on 70,000 VHS tapes, capturing revolutions, lies, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows, and commercials that tell us who we were, and show how television shaped the world of today. 

From the documentary’s website “RECORDER: The Marion Stokes Project”.

The 70,000 VHS tapes are currently awaiting digitization by the Internet Archive to be made available to the public. But these tapes also represent the ideal use case for Machine Learning technology like Google Vision to make it all searchable.

This also clearly demonstrates the need for a new editing metaphor, something like Tom Ohanian wrote about on his excellent State of Digital Nonlinear Editing series on LinkedIn.

Because a massive amount of people can read. And if they interact with content not first and foremost via video and audio, but with words, manipulation of content becomes really easy and very accessible. And it will / should work along these lines: Content that is recorded will then be processed by a variety of AI application suites. Each suite will provide different functionality (e.g. tonal analysis, speech-to-text, etc.) based on the characteristics of the content. When a live or recorded stream of content is digitized, it will be subjected to a variety of these suites.

At that point, the user will be presented with the text associated with the content. Each word, with exact reference to its precise positioning within the data stream, will be indexed. Manipulation of text (e.g. cut, copy, paste), will, in effect, be the method of editing that content. Picture and sound will follow along.

Tom Ohanian’s State of Digital Nonlinear Editing and Digital Media 10

(Note: Linkedin’s poor formatting makes these articles more difficult to read than necessary, but stick with it, his series is very insightful and thought provoking.)

Capture (Producers Productivity Series – article 2)

One of the core tenets of GTD methodology is to stop wasting mental energy thinking about unnecessary tasks and Capture anything on your mind into a trusted system. While David Allen doesn’t prescribe any specific tool (he values pen and paper, just as much as an iPhone) it being 2019, most of us are going to be looking for an App. Therefore it’s impossible for me to talk about productivity without also writing about software. And those of us in Apple’s ecosystem have a bounty of excellent options. I’m going to talk about three: OmniFocus, Things 3, and Todoist.

Wait, but what about paper?

I’m glad you asked, because everyone who’s worked with me knows that my number one totally immutable rule is:

My primary requirement for my team is that they carry a notebook and pen at all times in the office. Too much gets thrown at us too quickly to rely solely on electronics. More often than not, on my way to the water cooler, I’ll be confronted by an editor who experienced a payroll problem, a producer who needs a multi-group looked into, and the E.P. telling me that a cut delivery is going to push. All of these items get written down in the notebook immediately, or otherwise they’d be forgotten.

What about Apple’s built in Reminders app?

Reminders is hugely popular because its free, works across all of your devices, and it’s fast. It’s also very popular with our group:

The problem with Apple’s built in app is that Reminders can’t create Projects. It lacks basic task management features like putting things on hold, creating or deferring dates, and has no ability to create contexts (We’ll dig into the contexts monster in a later post). Unfortunately, it’s not up to the task of a serious workflow.

#SpoilerAlert OmniFocus, Things 3, and Todoist.

Since this series isn’t meant to be primarily about software let’s just cut to the TL;DR chase and tell you what I think about these apps, so we can focus on the process.

  • OmniFocus is the most powerful app.
  • Things 3 is the most beautiful app.
  • Todoist is the triumph of function over form.

The Feel of the Speed of Thought

When a task that you might have to do comes to mind capturing it quickly is paramount. OmniFocus‘s power is its hindrance in this area. Yes, OmniFocus enables you to create defer dates or set an estimated duration, but look at all of those options:

I found myself spending way too much time thinking about the tasks, instead of getting it out of my mind.

Things 3 has a nifty “Magic Plus” button on its iOS app that looks and feels beautiful:

But its Todoist‘s natural language parsing that wins me over in regards to Capture. What that means is that if you type “Update the family budget Every Wednesday at 8 pm” Todoist is smart enough to create a new task titled “Update the family budget” with a deadline of 8 pm every Wednesday.

As a producer I find myself living and dying by the date of things. So being about type “Follow up with legal by Thursday morning” and having an event created with a 10 am deadline is just so fast. It makes working with OmniFocus and Things 3 feel primitive by comparison.

But wait you don’t use the ‘calendar‘ the GTD way!?

Yes, this is true. While not prescriptive in his recommendation of tools, David Allen takes a hard line approach to the calendar:

No More “Daily To-Do” Lists on the Calendar! … This might be heresy to past-century time-management training, which almost universally taught that the daily to-do list is key. But such lists embedded on a calendar don’t work, for two reasons. … Trying to keep a list on the calendar, which must then be reentered on another day if items don’t get done, is demoralizing and a waste of time. … Second, if there’s something on a daily to-do list that doesn’t absolutely have to get done that day, it will dilute the emphasis on the things that truly do. … The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all.

This makes sense logically, but as I mentioned in my last post, I’m having difficulties structuring my tasks around contexts other than due date. And I’d wager that most of you producers will feel the same way. The idea that certain apps are more oriented around your “day” was most full expressed on the r/productivity subreddit here:

I think OmniFocus is more useful than Things 3 if you’re set on doing GTD: … the way the app is structured you aren’t so much focused on your “day” but what items you have available to you to do. The custom “perspectives” you can use with the pro account is extremely useful for this: at work I use a perspective that narrows down to a work folder containing all work projects and that also only shows me items that I can do while literally at work.

Things 3 is more centered around what your “day” looks like, more like a traditional to do list app. You can star tasks or add dates for it to show up on your “today” list. It has tags that can be used like contexts, but using tags as contexts is a little difficult because it takes a few taps to narrow down to what you want. And since the focus of Things is working down a “Today” list you sort of end up not using Things [tags] the way it feels like its designed, going the GTD route.

Todoist is similar to Things 3 in this way. You create and work down a date based task list because it’s so easy to organize them on the calendar.

There is much more to productivity than efficient capture. Contexts and regular reviews are pretty critical too. But this exercise of working through the strengths and weaknesses of these different apps has made me realize my own over reliance on the calendar. Can I start to think about my work in non-time based ways? In the next post I’ll dig into my roles and responsibilities as a producer and consider how that might be affecting my workflow.

What the heck is GTD? (Producer Productivity Series – article 1)

As I mentioned in my last post, it seems like a lot of Producers don’t know about David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system for managing personal productivity, so that seems like a good place to start our journey.

The best way to think about GTD is as a decision making system for all of your tasks. The core components of the system are actually covered in the first three chapters of the book. The system emphasizes a few simple points:

– 2 minute rule: if you remember to do something and it takes you less than two minutes to do it, just go ahead and do it now.
– don’t keep “open loops”: if something’s on your mind write it down in a trusted repository so that it doesn’t float around your head and nag at you all of the time.
– review your lists regularly: then “do it, delegate it, defer it, drop it” otherwise you will lose faith in the system and it will never work.

Here is a handy flowchart that shows you the GTD ‘algorithm’:

By SageGreenRider – Own work, Public Domain,

I read David Allen’s book about four years ago and when I put his methodology into practice I immediately saw my own productivity double or triple. In addition, I felt less reactive and more in control of my day. Having more control of my work also increased my job satisfaction and reduced a significant amount of stress and anxiety. This is no small achievement. As a Post Producer it often feels like I spend all of my time fighting fires. Anything that gives me the ability to be proactive is a gift. So what’s changed that I no longer feel as effective as I did just a few months ago?

My role. I’m not the same Producer I used to be. Having more control over my environment means I’ve been entrusted with responsibilities that previously weren’t in my purview. My increased efficiency has also enabled me to undertake projects outside of work. Therefore, one of my first stops on this journey is going to be reevaluating my commitments and defining my desired outcomes in each area.

My goals. As people evolve, it is only natural for their goals to change too. Recently my goals have developed from being the best producer I can be, into sharing what I know with my peers and helping the whole industry be better. This evolution means I need to be mindful of my output as well as my intake.

My tools. I used to work exclusively on my MacBook Pro and iPhone, but last year I was given a top-of-the-line iMac at work. Between the enormous 27″ 5K screen and screaming performance the iMac is my primary computing device (Well maybe second after my iPhone). But using the work iMac means that I’m not able to use apps from the App Store and sync with iCloud, such as Things 3 and Bear (We’ll dive deep into software in a future post).

My contexts. In GTD terminology a context is “either the tool or the location or the situation needed to complete” the task. For example: a context called “Avid” which would allow you to toggle tasks that require Media Composer. The idea being that if you’re not in front of an Avid, and you can’t complete certain tasks, then there is no point considering the task. The problem I think I’m having is that most of my tasks are calendar (i.e. need to be done at a specific time) or ‘Waiting For‘ (i.e. deferred to someone else and my task to check-in with them sometime in the future). Thanks to the power of the iPhone I’m able to get so much work done wherever I’m standing, the boundaries of my tools erode more and more every single day.

This contexts category is real nitty-gritty GTD stuff that we’ll dig into later in the series. Espcially as we look at the extremely power app OmniFocus. In the meantime, the next post will start to dig into the my capture process in greater detail.