An Assistant Editor’s Guide to Syncing Projects in Premiere Pro
As an assistant editor, I’ve been fortunate to work on theatrical and streaming projects for Sony, Netflix, NBC/Universal, Legendary Pictures, Blumhouse, and Parkwood Entertainment. And, over the years, I’ve seen a lot of Premiere Pro-based shows that have been set up incorrectly by previous assistant editors.
This leads to frustrated editors who have to deal with excessive audio tracks, and difficult turnovers complicated by inaccurate timecode. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
In this article, we’ll be looking at how you can simplify the process for syncing footage on narrative and commercial projects so that your footage comes in cleanly and quickly. As the title indicates, we’re focusing on professional assistant editors and editors working in Premiere Pro Productions, with a nod towards those who might be migrating from Avid Media Composer.
Groups, multicam, or merged?
Regardless of your number of cameras, we’re going to sync by creating what Premiere calls multicam clips. These are roughly the equivalent of AVID Groups. To differentiate multi-camera clips from standard audio and video clips, I’m going to refer to the latter as “A/V clips.”
What about merged clips? Merged clips are taboo in professional workflows. They are destructive, meaning they strip the audio metadata and make it difficult to link back to original media for turnovers. Additionally, they lack the refinement and corrective control of multi-camera source clips.
Import your footage
Create a dated folder in your Production and import all A/V clips for the day. (If you’re using Premiere’s built-in proxies workflow, import the raw A/V clips. Otherwise, bring in transcodes created from the field.) Break out your clips from their subfolders, so audio and video are all sitting at the root level of the dailies project.
Sync your footage as Multi-Camera Source Sequences
Before you sync your footage, bring up the History window. Premiere Pro logs the creation of each clip as a new undo state, meaning if something goes wrong it’s very cumbersome to Cmd/Ctrl+Z your way through a whole batch of syncing. So the History window is the fastest way to undo a batch sync.
In the Project panel, highlight all your clips—or select the bin they’re in if you’re on a Mac—right-click, and select “Create Multi-Camera Source Sequence.” Assuming the crew was running timecode and the audio department properly labeled their takes, use the following settings:
In most cases, you’ll want to set “Audio Channels Preset” to “Mono” for maximum compatibility within your edit sequences. This cannot be easily changed after syncing.
You might see an alarming pop-up which reads “Could not synchronize one or more clips in the current selection because a match could not be found.” This is expected. Any false takes, room tone, or MOS (without sound) shots will trigger this message. Premiere will keep them out of the “Processed Clips” bin, and you’ll need to address them individually later.
Wait! My crew didn’t sync timecode! Premiere Pro can batch sync by scratch audio waveforms, although the process is slower and more prone to error. Select all audio and video clips and select “Create Multi-Camera Source Sequence” as above, except check the Audio radio button. You may have to wait a while as Premiere Pro analyzes your audio waveforms.
If you don’t have scratch audio, things get really tedious. Go through each A/V clip and set the in-point on the slate’s clap frame. When necessary, rename clips to reflect their scene/take number. Next, command-select a matching A/V clip pair and select “Create Multi-Camera Source Sequence” as above, except using the in-point as the synchronize point. You’ll have to repeat this step for every take.
Correct errors in your multicam clips
After syncing, you’ll need to sweep through your clips to correct any mistakes and prep clips for the editor. Open up each multicam clip in the timeline and inspect them one-by-one.
After correcting an error in a multicam clip, it should update across all usages in the production—but Premiere Pro can sometimes fail to update multicams in edit sequences. Therefore, it’s best to correct all the multicam issues listed below before handing things off to your editor.
Fix any timecode drift
Timecode will often drift by a frame or two between audio and camera, so it’s a good habit to verify sync at the slate for a few clips per day of shooting.
If the sync is off, manually drag the audio to match the video—not the other way around. Alternatively, if the camera was recording scratch audio, you can right-click the clips and use Premiere Pro’s Synchronize function to match audio waveforms. Afterward, you’ll need to correct the multi-cam clip’s timecode (see below).
Isolate multiple takes and false clips
When you inspect or play back your multicam clips, sometimes you’ll find extra A/V clips have incorrectly synced with your clip. This often happens with false takes, or if another day’s footage gets lumped in with your media.
In some situations, deleting an extra clip solves the problem. For more complicated situations, reveal each A/V clip in the project and move them into a folder called PROBLEMATIC. Delete the original multicam clip, and manually address these remaining A/V clips.
Fix incorrect clip names
You’ll probably have to correct the multicam clip names to remove any extra characters and file extensions that came with your audio files. At time of writing, Premiere Pro does not have AVID’s batch renaming functionality, so you’ll have to rename each clip one by one. Extensions and macros can speed up this process.
Delete any black gaps
While not strictly necessary, I am in the habit of deleting the black gaps when audio rolls before camera and cuts after camera. It makes the multicams’ thumbnails more useful and keeps stringouts clean.
However, moving the A/V clips will misalign the multicam’s timecode with the A/V clips’ timecode. To correct this, click on the sequence’s hamburger menu, and select Start time…->Set by first clip.
Modify your audio channels to match your mixdown tracks
Right now, if you bring a multicam clip into an edit sequence, it’ll probably come in with five or more audio tracks. Most of these audio tracks represent the signal from individual microphones. We call these “isolated tracks,” or ISOs. Your production reports will detail which ISO corresponds to which microphone.
ISOs are very cumbersome to work with, because your editor will need to manage each extra audio track every time they make a cut. Instead, you should use the mixdown tracks, which are tracks supplied by the audio department that contain all audio signals mixed together.
Right-click on all your multicam clips in the project window and select Modify -> Audio Channels. Change “Number of Audio Clips” to match your quantity of mixdown tracks—they’re usually on tracks one and two, but you can confirm in your production reports. If they were recorded to a different track, select the corresponding check box.
This step is often forgotten, and makes your timelines much more manageable.
The multicam clips will now write into edit sequences with only two audio clips. If the editor ever needs to access ISOs to clean up dirty audio, they can double-click on the multicam clip in a timeline to access them.
Hold on. If I get rid of ISO tracks, will the sound department be able to access them? Talk this over with your sound department early on. If the sound team is using Pro Tools Ultimate, they will be able to easily unpack all tracks with their Field Recorder workflow. Third-party applications like EdiLoad can do the trick, too.
In a worst case scenario, either the sound assistant or picture assistant (you) will have to manually match-overwrite all tracks after picture lock. Don’t worry – it’s not as bad as it sounds and I’ve written a guide for it here.
Break out multicam clips into scene projects
This is highly dependent on your editor’s preferences. Generally, you should make a new project for each scene with all multicam clips and a stringout. Editors will often want you to chop the slates off the beginnings of clips, and add colored markers for Action, Cut and Reset.
I add room tone, wild line clips, MOS shots, and VFX plates into their corresponding scene bins and stringouts, following all multicam clips.
Why is all my audio panned left or right? You probably created your edit sequence based off your multicam clips, or pressed the “Change Sequence Settings” button when dragging in your first clip. Instead, manually set up a new sequence based on your project specs, and save these settings as a preset for future use.
By the end of this process:
- The only item left in your dated dailies project should be the “Processed Clips” folder with raw A/V clips inside.
- Every take should have its own multi-camera clip, with one or more video clips inside.
- You should have a scene bin for each scene shot, with all corresponding clips inside.
- Your stringouts’ audio tracks should be lean and mean—only the mixdowns, no ISOs.
Article reproduced with permission.