Setting up an edit suite
Not ALL suites are made equal! - Image from AKA Design
You may not realise it yet, but you will need to get a grasp of how an Avid Edit Suite literally plugs together, and what needs to go where, and what kit is needed to allow you to edit.
Before we get into the ins and outs of an edit suite, let's just think about where you could be working in your role as an Assistant.
On smaller productions there's a strong chance that you won't be working on a dedicated professionally installed edit suite. Some projects may well roam the country or indeed the world, and the edit suite will more than likely need to follow. This means that you'll need, at the very least, a clear understanding of what makes up your suite, so when it's packed away, it's done carefully and accounted for, in both the disassembly and then again in the rebuild at your new location.
When looking at a professional, dedicated edit suite, they are a far cry from a hotel room with a laptop balanced on bed ends and pocket drives littering the coffee table as people fight over the power outlets to charge the camera batteries! This is part of the job, as well as part of the excitement, making good out of what you've got and continuing to produce the same quality work no matter what.
"If the edit's on location, you may end up in an absolute hell-hole. On one project I worked on the office was based in an abandoned factory. All of production were running off pay-as-you-go 3G dongles that had to be continually topped up... by me."
-Mark McKenny - Assistant Editor
As we will see a little later, you may well have to share a suite with the editor, or you may have your own workstation. In either case we need to know what we need and how and where to set a system up. Lets have a quick look at setting up and what we need to know.
What makes a suite?
There are a number of things that go to make up an edit suite. Some of them are obvious, such as the actual equipment itself, but a few are less so, yet stare you in the face.
You may be lucky and be working in a post facility, in which case the room will already be set up. That doesn't mean you should take it for grated that it will meet your projects needs. If you can, go and check it out and make some observations before the project starts.
- Does the room have a window in it? If so does it have a blind for controlling the light?
- How is the room laid out? Is it set for a right handed editor or left handed? Do you need to move it about a little?
- How many chairs does it have? Does it have a viewing couch?
- How close is the kitchen and facilities?
- Is there enough room for a client computer on the edit desk?
These might sound trivial, but they are more important than you can imagine and will save you having to address issues like this later down the track and loose you valuable time.
If you are going to have your own edit suite to work on then go and check it out as well. There might be a good chance that your suite will not be as plush as that of the editors, but it still needs the essentials.
Essential kit is Monitors, Speakers, Workstation and Storage.
HINT: If you are working at a facility for the first time make sure you introduce yourself and get to know what the facility offers. Find out who are the key people to ask for technical support and also how do you get out of hours access to the building if you are sharing a suite with the editor to allow you to ingest.
For the majority of Assistants starting out, especially if you are working for free (not make this a habit) to help flesh out your CV, the room may well be a little out of your control. Some edits have to live on the road and follow the production from place to place. In these cases you may well be working in an office or hotel room, make the most of what you have, ensure you can close curtains and blinds and if needs be, move the desk to get the best position with regards to the lighting. Use lamps to help control the lighting too.
Make sure you have enough desk space! If you have a traditional setup of 2 monitors and some speakers then you’ll need a desk that is at least 1.5m wide by 700mm deep. If you need to have a couple of people sat at the desk, make sure there's enough space for them to both sit at and not get in each other’s way. The desk will become full of sticky notes and scripts, so try and keep it organised.
I like to keep my desk top as clear of things as possible, so my workstation goes down on the floor. Make sure it’s not too close for you to kick it, and if you have producers or directors sitting alongside you, they too can’t kick it by accident either. Kicked and snapped USB keys in the front of your PC can be a disaster!
Raise the monitors so that they are at eye level, even if it means they're stood on A4 reams of paper (yes I’ve done that!) If you have enough space try and do the same with the speakers. Plinths are a great way of ensuring everything is at the right height. Check out AV desk makers such as AKA Design for ideas and inspiration.
We can’t stress enough to you that you try and ensure you have a good chair that can let you sit for hours while editing, even if you have a fancy desk that can be raised so you can edit standing, you'll sit be sitting for some part of the day. Make sure you marry the chair to the height of the desk by raising or lowering the chair seat, so that you feet are flat on the floor and your knees are at about 90 degrees. Adjust the back support so that your lower and upper back are supported.
Make sure you also have regular breaks, standing up and walk about for a few minutes. Perhaps go put the kettle on for some creative inspiration. When editing also try and change your visual focal point from the monitor every now, as maintaining a fixed focal length for long periods can fatigue the eyes.
Make sure you have enough power. This is especially important if you are working in an office space that is not dedicated for editing in. Check the number of wall sockets and the number of mains strips you have. Make sure you have more than enough strips. If you are working from hotel rooms there’s a good chance you’ll be sharing with the camera crew who have a high need for power too!
HINT: Try and use power surge strips to help reduce the risk of mains ‘spikes.’ Some strips also have USB power outlets which are great for charging phones and power banks. Ensure the lead on the strip is also a decent length too.
If you are lucky enough to be working abroad, check the countries power (115 volts or 240 volts?) can be used with your equipment. Check if you need adapters too! Some countries also have unreliable power and can suffer from power outages regularly. This is where laptops are worth their weight in gold!
This is the heart of your edit suite and needs to be fit for purpose. It could be a workstation or a laptop depending upon your projects needs. If you are working out of a facility this will more than likely be a workstation.
The other important factor to take into account is it could be Windows or Mac based, this means you need to be familiar with both!
Typical, high end, HP and Mac Pro workstations
Workstations offer the advantage of greater connectivity and usually processing power, their downside being their portability. If you are going to be based at a location for extended periods of time, then these are great. If the kit moves about a lot, then more than likely you will be using a laptop. Laptops will have limited connectivity so may have items such as USB hubs and adapters to allow them to function. Look at them closely if you need to pull them apart and reassemble.
HINT: Take pictures with your phone of your setup so you can put it back together exactly as it was if you need to move it.
Remember as an Assistant you will have little say in what equipment is used you just need to know how to get the best from it and know what is plugged where.
There should be at least 2. Ensure they are both set to the same resolution (if possible.) As mentioned already, try and raise them so they are at eye level when seated. Make sure you know which one plugs into which port on the computers graphics card.
If you are using a laptop you may well only have a single additional monitor, using the laptop as the bin window and the other monitor as the edit window. Try and raise the laptop so that is also in align with the other monitor. In these cases an external mouse and keyboard are also useful.
You’ll need good quality speakers. Which speakers you use will be down to personal preference and budget. We'll only discuss stereo set ups here, but on large film productions, they could be be editing in 3.1 5.1 or even 7.1. For a simple stereo set up you'll need to know where the speaker will be attached. For example will they be plugged into the computers 3.5mm stereo jack or into the video I/O cards XLR connectors? This will have an impact on which speakers you will be able to use.
In most cases, the speakers used will be self powdered. This means the amplifier is built into either one or both speakers. If quality speakers aren’t readily available then good quality headphones need to used (these should be part of your personal kit – see later.)
Genelec speakers are my personal favorites
If there are going to be viewings then make sure you have the speakers attached the right way round! Right is right and Left is left!
Some productions may also use a small mixing desk. This allows the editor to control the volume easier and to have other items attached too. Make sure you understand the desk as they each have their own quirks and needs.
In most facilities, there will be an external ‘client’ monitor that is used for viewing the edited content full screen. Media Composer can present the edit ‘full screen’ on its computer displays, but this would not necessarily give the greatest picture quality and annoyingly can lose you your editing window.
SONY Trimaster EL Monitors
This external monitor could be a ‘broadcast’ quality 25” display or a 55” large screen LED domestic television, or both. In either case, this usually means that the computer will be using an external video I/O card that is creating the signal to supply the screen, and usually the speakers too, ensuring pictures and sound are in sync. Depending upon the monitor the signal may be supplied via a HDMI cable or SDI video cable. Make sure you have the right cables you need and they are long enough to reach!
We have already discussed that in detail earlier in the course, but we'll say it again. Make sure you have enough capacity , the right performance, connection and protection for your editing needs.
Here’s a few more items to be aware of in your duties as an Assistant.
- Internet Connection: See if internet connections are supplied and if so what are the WiFi passwords or ports that can be used to access the internet. Are there any restrictions?
- Headphones: If you need to work in the same room as the editor make sure that headphones are available for you to use. See personal kit later
- Keyboard and Mouse: Wireless keyboards and mice are very useful items to have for the edit suite. Back-lit keyboards are also available if you're working in a dark environment.
- Office Essentials: Notepads, pens and sticky notes are essentials items. Make sure they're available to hand in the suite(s).
- Checklist: Make a check list of everything you need, especially if your edit suite is mobile.