No Arguments Here


..”hello room service? Can you send up a LaCie drive?….”


The arguments about the cameras are endless.

The small cameras are toys.

They are not professional.

They are for amateurs.

Ironically, they are also the least significant driver of the video revolution.

As ‘Nino‘, a cameraman from Tampa, Florida, and a regular contributor to pointed out the other day, even the cost of ‘professional’ camera gear has dropped substantially.

To me it is ironic that it is the editing systems, not the cameras, that are the greater drivers of change. And while I receive innumerable emails from professional cameramen in the twenty years I have been doing this, I have yet to receive one email from a professional editor. Yet the impact of the ‘revolution’ is as great, or greater, upon them,

When I started working in this business, we cut in CMX edit suites. They cost anywhere from $500,000 to a million dollars (and those were the days when a million dollars would buy you more than a studio apartment in Brooklyn).

The rooms were big. The equipment was big. And complex.

Endless panels of switches and lights and meters and God only knows what else. You needed someone who really knew what they were doing. Say ‘take a’ and the editor pushed about a hundred buttons in a very complex sequence and in the back you could hear wheels turning, tape searching, things moving as the dissolve was laid in. The whole process took a long time… if you didn’t crash your I square first.

Today, there’s far more firepower in my laptop loaded with FCP than in those giant rooms with carpeting on the walls.

And all it takes to lay in a dissolve is to drag an icon onto the timeline. My 15 year old nephew is a master of editing…..when he isn’t paying baseball.

So when we go out and make a series like 5Takes (see above), editors like Margot Roth don’t work in edit rooms anymore. As we carry the cameras into the field, so too do we carry the edit rooms, in the form of Mac laptops. (Roth, like everyone who works here, shoots, scripts, directs and edits. Her credits run from Discovery to PBS, and she is currently working on her on feature release).

And as the VJs are out shooting the events of the day, Margot and her fellow editors are back at the hotel, cutting the sequences that were just shot.

Editing in real time.

The whole purpose of non linear is that you can edit stuff out of sequence.

So we cut as it happens, and then massage the timeline later.

How many times have you used a non linear edit system but still begun at the beginning and worked your way to the end? That does not leverage off of what non linear does best… non linear.

So by moving the edits into the field, closing the ‘edit suites’, cutting as it happens, the whole team is able to watch as the hour unfolds.. and change their shooting and events to suit the needs of the timeline – not the other way around.

It makes sense.

It also means we can turn around hours for air in as little as 6 days, from initial shoot to delivery.

With lots more control.

Of course, there is a downside.

….you have all those people in your room all the time.


11 responses to “No Arguments Here

  1. Michael – How does a project like this compare to the day to day workings of the solo VJ who needs to be a Jack of All Trades and Master Of Them All???

    Here is a situation where there are editors working while shooters and talent are out creating the content for the day. Is there a different methodology to production once something like Travel Channel comes into play as compared to the solo VJ paradigm???

  2. Cliff,
    All the people who work on this (not the talent) are VJs. That is they all shoot, edit and direct the scenes they do. We like to rotate the slots to prevent people from going nuts… To make sure they have a very hands on feel for the project, and nothing makes a better shooter than having to cut your own material. Sorry if this was not clear from the above.

  3. Michael — I’m curious… When the editing in the field (in the hotel) is done and you ship off the tape to Discovery HQ (or wherever), is the product really, really finished?

    What other steps — if any — does the network take with the video before it makes it to the satellite for final distribution. Obviously commercials are laid in and all, but is there any post-post editing?

  4. I agree Michael – I feel it’s a necessity that one cut their own material in post. I believe it makes for a better shooter in the process – much the same way editing your own still images to go to press with a story – learning to see one’s mistakes, where one could have shot better, etc is all about the learning process of becoming a better story teller.

  5. Hi John
    We deliver a finished piece, cut to clock from the field and send it directly to Discovery. Sometimes we satellite it into them and sometimes we have kids who act as courriers and hand deliver the drives. Depends on where we are. We do one final pass here in the hotels for color correction and pro tools and then off it goes. I remember the days of ‘conform edits’. Nuts, expensive and totally unnecessary.

  6. So it seems that the so called “Broadcast Quality” cameras that the old guard espouse becomes a moot point.

    If I understand you correctly, you shoot on prosumer/consumer cameras, edit and render out on a consumer laptop with software available to anyone, and deliver the final broadcast quality product.

    Priceless… 😉

  7. Michael please, don’t use my name and take my postings out of context then twist it around to make your point. What I wrote is not ironic if you read the whole thing.
    The topic on the argument that you quoted me is that I want you to tell me how financially successful you VJs are. Five years ago you told very boldly that your VJs with your 3 weeks training will put us, dedicated veterans, with full production education and fully equipped with real broadcast gear will be history and put out of business by your VJs, not in news, not in cable programs but just out. It was your way or the highway. Five years went by and we are still here doing better than ever. What would have happen if we were to believe in you back then? Five years later, your VJ system is no longer an infant and for the benefit of young people who believe in you I strongly feel that you should reveal what the financial potential is and how many out of the thousand that you have trained are able to support a family. So far you have avoided the question or came with some far out comparison that have nothing to so with the real situation. It will not go away just because you don’t answer it.
    The discussion was that five years ago you biggest argument in favor of your VJ was that the price of regular broadcast camera was in the 70k and the substantial saving when using a 5k camera was making your VJ project a viable one. As little as one week ago you were still making reference to a 70k camera to prove your point and never even mentioned that today that 70k camera is now 25k and the prices continue to drop. Now you are talking about the laptop as being the key of the VJ potential success and making comparison to the full editing suites of the past without even mentioning that those million dollar systems went out over ten years ago and since the mid 90s desktop editors costing between 5 and 10K have been the centerpiece of editing.

  8. Nino
    I still stand by what I said before. To avoid anyone taking your comments out of context, I linked them to the source. The cost of gear continues to drop, both for cameras and for editing gear, and will continue to do so, while at the same time the demand for video content continues to skyrocket, particularly as the web goes to video. As that happens, however, there is a fractionalization of the audience and so also the advertising base. More demand, less money per hour. Conventional production methods will not survive.

    Had you listened to me then, five years ago, and started your own production company using laptops and small cameras, my guess is you would be doing quite well. You would have gotten in early and would have a nice chunk of the market.

    Instead you cling to your high end ‘professional’ niche, which is fine. It is not going away, but it certainly is not going to get any bigger. On the contrary.

    Many of the people who started with me have gone on to found their own production companies and make very nice livings, and also produce some of the programs you probably watch, without even realizing it. They run the spectrum.

    You will also note that I have edited out your question as to how much I earn from a series, and how much I pay people who work for me. Needless to say, that is not a subject for public discussion, as I am sure you will appreciate.

  9. nino – why not set up your own blog? Everytime you post on Michaels blog you increase his reach and influence. Is that really what you want to do?

    Michael recently suggested that TV stations should be burned down. I think that is a ridiculous suggestion when the buildings could quite easily be repurposed as much needed day care centers and squash courts.

  10. Michael I do not intend to continue this on your turf particularly when you have veto power, but you are the one that brought me into this.

    “More demand, less money per hour. Conventional production methods will not survive.”

    Yes you predicted this five years ago that we were doomed. So far my business has been steadily growing as it has been doing for 32 years before your prediction, and so is everyone else on my same professional level that I know, and keep in mind I can only take one out of three calls that I get, in few words I give away or turn down two thirds of the calls. So how many more years before this predictions of yours start taking place?

    “Had you listened to me then, five years ago, and started your own production company using laptops and small cameras, my guess is you would be doing quite well. You would have gotten in early and would have a nice chunk of the market”

    I give you the benefit on this one, if you would only answer my questions. How much better would I been doing Michael? That’s why I’ve been asking how well your thousand of VJs are doing right now after five years, but you haven’t answered that yet, number Michael numbers, you can’t take guesses to the bank nor pay your mortgage and buy groceries with guesses and predictions.

    Let’s see, you started by predicting that we’ll make a ton with cable shows, then you moved to the news room and now is the web, so what’s next?

    Why did you edit my question out? Suddenly it’s not an item for discussion? I was just repeating what you said on B-roll. Everyone can go there and see them. Kevin doesn’t edit anything out.

  11. Dear Nino
    If we’re going to continue this, we’ll have to do it here as there does not seem to be any place to post on your website, comments or otherwise.

    I am delighted you are doing so well that you have to turn down two thirds of the calls you get. As you are turning them down anyway, why don’t you send them over to me? (I pay commissions!)

    I can’t say how much better you would be doing as I don’t have access to your books (and believe me, I don’t wanna know). Can you make a ton with cable shows? I do OK. Many of my friends do also. Does it work in newsrooms – seems to be happening there. KGTV, as you probably saw, is even way up in the ratings; but lots of newsrooms are doing this. On the web? I think we both know that at your rates you could not make a living doing web video….unless you are shooting, writing, cutting and producing it yourself – which would make you a VJ!

    Your question that I edited out was how much I charged Discovery for 5Takes and how much I paid the VJs who worked on it. I am sure you can appreciate that I don’t publish those kinds of questions nor is it anyone’s business. What I wrote in b-roll and what I have no problem with is that cable shows pay anywhere from 80K to 300K per hour and my top paid VJs can make up to $3500 a week. Does that help you?

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