7 Prep Mistakes To Avoid When Delivering to a Post House

So, you’ve finished editing your project. You’re done now, right? Well, not so fast. Maybe not. If you are delivering to a network or a streaming service, or producing a commercial spot to be broadcast, then chances are you will probably need to turnover your project to an online editor or colorist to make sure it’s technically sound.

Turning Over Your Project

What is a turnover? Turnover is exactly what it sounds like—turning over your project to another department for the final finishing, sound, color, and online. In this case, we are focusing on preparing a project for color grading and the online edit.

  • Color grading: This is more than just the process of coloring shots for aesthetic value, color enhancement, as well as setting a tone and feeling of a scene. It’s also about making sure the shots meet particular chroma and luminance standards for whatever final delivery your project has (i.e broadcast, web, theatrical etc).
  • Online Edit: We hear this word a lot in post-production. But what does it really mean? Generally speaking, you are in the offline stages when you do your primary editing with lower res versions of your media (proxies). The online comes when your media is upgraded to the final resolution and new media renders are created out of the coloring platform.

The Role of the Online Editor

The online editor makes sure your project is ready to go for your color session. If you are working with proxies, they may do the up-resing for you. It’s also their job to make sure that there are no technical difficulties in your timeline that will kick back errors in the conform process in the color platform. These issues could be speed changes, unsupported formats, etc. In the conform, your timeline will be rebuilt from an imported AAF or XML of your picture-locked timeline.

An online editor will then, after the media has been colored, rebuild your project with a new XML and the rendered out colored media. After this, they may add back any speed changes that weren’t baked in, they may adjust frame sizes, add in credits, add in blurred faces, or objects if needed, fix dead pixels, etc. Finally, they will output your project for your final deliverables, whatever that might be.

7 Common Prep Mistakes

I had the pleasure of speaking with online editors Shane Ross and Ken Wortendyke to get their perspectives on the most common prep mistakes they come across and what editors can do to make the online editor’s job easier.

Shane’s online editor credits include: Smithsonian Channel’s “The Lost Tapes”; “The Challenger Disaster”; and he was credited as colorist and online editor for feature documentaries “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary,” directed by John Scheinfeld, and Werner Herzog’s “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World.”

Ken Wortendyke was the online editor for Smithsonian Channel’s mini-series “The Real Mad Men of Advertising” and the editor and finishing editor on multiple episodes of National Geographic’s series, “Tales From the American Mob,” and “Naked Science,” and  NatGEO WILD’s “World’s Deadliest.”

I have combined a list of some of the most common mistakes Shane and Ken have come across in their work, along with my own experiences in the turnover process.

1. Unorganized and Inconsistent Video and Audio Tracks

Clean up your timeline

One of the biggest annoyances for online editors is a disorganized timeline with excess video and audio tracks. It’s great to use multiple tracks to house our different camera angles and shot options. But once the picture is locked and you’re ready to send your project to color, these excess tracks with unused shots are completely unnecessary. Shane says that “sometimes I get seven layers of video on top of each other and then sometimes there’s video underneath that’s not even seen. I’m then getting three times the media that I really need because they didn’t condense the tracks.”

Online editors have to work fast to meet network or other mandated deadlines, so if they have to spend excess time organizing your timeline and collapsing video layers, that is extra money out of the post budget and will likely leave your producers pulling out their hair. So conserve your online editor’s time and organize your timeline.

Make sure your tracks are consistent

On track 1 you could have your raw footage, on track 2 you could have all your graphics, on track 3 all your texts etc. Just make sure it’s all consistent. It will make your online editor’s job so much easier and they will be able to find what they need in a fast, efficient manner.

2. Incorrect Logging in Ingest

Shane describes that one of the most critical aspects of the ingest is assigning unique naming conventions to your video cards. Sometimes weird timecode issues happen in the color conform process where there are repeating timecodes causing the media to not reconnect properly. Having the cards properly named, as Shane likes to say, helps him, “find the keys to the car.” Your online editor will have such an easier time finding your media if your source cards are named properly or have relevant metadata associated with them that clearly identifies where they came from.

3. Not Including an Offline Time-Code Burn Reference File

Never, ever, EVER forget to send an output of your offline picture locked sequence with timecode burn. This is the bible of your show for an online editor. Without this, they have no clue how your project is supposed to look. Online editors use this to make sure that everything is conformed properly inside of the color application and then to check that everything is brought back to your NLE properly.  It is common for shots to slip a few frames or the wrong shot may come through within a multicam source, so without the reference file, an online editor won’t see these mistakes. Oftentimes online editors will take that reference file, lay that file over your timeline, and bring down the opacity to about 50%. Any frame mismatches, incorrect shots, or offline files will be easily found with this method and so they can ensure everything is translating properly.Timecode burn

4. Forgetting to Strip Shots of Plugins, Filters & Speed Changes

The NLEs and the color programs communicate back and forth through XMLs, AAFs, and EDLs—but these communication lines are very limited as far as what can be carried across platforms. Any plugins or any NLE-produced filters, will not cross over in the color system. You must remove these filters and plugins in your prep sequence. Your online editor can either reproduce these effects after your color session, or if you would like to keep the look you created with your effect or plugin, you can bake these in—export this shot with the filter and re-insert into your timeline.

However,  sometimes baking in a shot can itself be a problem—which leads me to problem #5.

5. Baking in a Shot When You Shouldn’t

If you bake an effect into a shot and deliver this to your online editor, there is no turning back. Your online editor can recreate these speed changes or effects for you—and they will probably look better. But, if you bake these effects in, you’re not giving your online editor the chance to make it shine. So think before “turning on that oven.”

6. Choosing “Scale to Frame Size” for Media in Adobe Premiere

Scale to Frame Size is a wonderful feature in Premiere for scaling media to your sequence settings when you’re in a hurry; but this feature is the biggest pain for online editors, according to Ken. Scale to Frame Size doesn’t apply any sizing data to an image, so when it is brought into a color application like Resolve via AAF, the sizing information does not carry over. This means your online editor will have to redo all the sizing for you, costing extra money. Selecting “Set to Frame Size” will actually add scaling data to your image in the motion panel, so this may be a better option for scaling media when you’re in a hurry.

7. Making Assumptions

This seems so obvious, but don’t assume anything. Ask questions. Ask how your online editor would like things delivered. If your last online editor liked things delivered a certain way, don’t assume your next online editor will want it that way. It isn’t one size fits all. Trust me, they would much prefer you to pester them with questions than get a project delivered to them that is not within their usual workflow.

The Post House Delivery Checklist

So now that we know what NOT to do, what can we do for good online prepping? Here’s a handy checklist:

  1. A collapsed, clean and orderly timeline with each video track’s media consistent
  2. Deliver a reference file with timecode burn of your offline picture locked sequence
  3. Media manage your cleaned, orderly timeline and include that media managed project file, so your online editor can refer back to it, if needed
  4. A full res textless Quicktime of your project with clean cuts (no dips to black, cross dissolves, or transitions). Shane Ross says he likes to have a full res Quicktime file of a project so he can use this as a back-up, if he needs to patch in a shot
  5. XML, AAF, and EDL of your timeline
  6. Make sure all video and images are scaled properly
  7. Call your online editor and confirm your work-flow

Organization and Planning is Key

The biggest way you can help yourself for a clean turnover and final delivery is to stay organized and plan your workflow from the very beginning. If you have a plan of action from the start of how you’re going to deliver your project to your online editor, the turnover will be so much smoother. Also, if you know from the beginning who your online editor and colorist is going to be, start the conversation early and ask them how you should set up and organize your project so that there are no surprises down the road.

Hopefully, knowing and avoiding these common mistakes will help you mitigate any issues in your future projects as you approach your turnover.

If you have any additional tips or suggestions, please comment below. We would love to hear them!

Photo credit: article feature image courtesy Kinopicz American.

Jeanna French

Jeanna French is an independent film/video editor. The film she edited, Brillo Box (3¢ Off), was an official selection of the New York Film Festival and is now streaming on HBO. She is an associate producer and editor on the PBS series, “In the Americas with David Yetman.” Jeanna also edited the short film, "A Few Things About Robert Irwin," for LACMA's annual Art + Film Gala. The film has screened at Provincetown Film Festival, AFI Documentary Film Festival, and LA Film Fest.