Adobe Premiere and UK TV post-production

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Yesterday I went to an interesting evening hosted by ITV Studios and Adobe. ITV Studios wanted editors to understand why Adobe Premiere Pro is a now a peer to Avid Media Composer when it comes to editing TV programmes of many different kinds. It was presented as a tale of Premiere vs. Media Composer - Final Cut Pro 7 and X were hardly mentioned.

ITV Studios makes over 3,500 hours of TV every year ranging from soap operas like Coronation Street, dramas such as Poirot and game shows including Come Dine with Me and I'm a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!

ITV Studios Production Modernisation programme

Martyn Suker, ITV Studios Head of Production Innovation, introduced their Production Modernisation programme. ITV Studios is organised as a group of individual TV production companies. That means they didn't need to impose a single huge digital asset management system. There is no need for the 'Mr. Selfridge' drama production team to access the many hours of rushes recorded for 'Come Dine With Me.' However, as nearly all broadcasters will require file-based submission of broadcast shows by October 1st 2014, ITV Studios wanted to define a 'commission to broadcast' workflow standard. 

Instead of an all-encompassing digital asset management system, they decided to use MioEverywhere from Nativ. MioEverywhere is a 'media logistics platform' - a way for information to flow from initial proposal, to production planning, photography, post-production and submission.

One aspect of file-based production that ITV Studios want to get control over is shooting ratios. In previous years producers understood how much footage was being recorded by counting video tapes at the end of each day. If the number of tapes suddenly stacked up, producers knew that something needed to be investigated. Few people can understand how many minutes are stored on an individual camera card. ITV Studios gets producers to consider this problem at a very early stage. Once a programme, film or series is commissioned budgeting includes defining how much media storage will be available to the production. At any stage any member of the production is able to see a graph that shows how much of the storage budget has been used so far.

mio tab

Mio Tab in Adobe Premiere Pro CC

A Mio production workflow amongst other things establishes a media storage limit, standard metadata tags and names the people involved. It uses Adobe Prelude to ingest footage, giving on-set post people the correct set of tags and the chance to do simple sequence stringouts. The clips and sequences then can be accessed in Adobe Premiere Pro. As Premiere can host HTML5-based UI elements from external systems, editors can access a special Mio tab which shows production metadata and handles the approval process. Instead of individually making DVDs in Premiere, Mio handles encoding, file transfer to approvers and import of timecode-based notes from collaborators.

After signoff Mio then prepares the required files for submission to the broadcasters - the required metadata stored as XML as well as a quality-controlled file using the correct codec settings.

Why Adobe Premiere Pro?

The audience at the event was made up of in-house editors and freelance editors. I got the impression that one of the aims of the evening was for the experienced Avid-only in-house editors to take Premiere seriously. The presence of many freelancers unthreatened by Premiere was perhaps supposed to give a strong message to those who haven't needed to learn it yet.

From a technical perspective, the Adobe advantage is that it can most easily fit into non-Adobe workflows. Adobe sticks to providing software instead of attempting to sell production companies and broadcasters full systems from software to storage to networking.

There's currently no way for a third-party system to populate a custom part of the Avid Media Composer UI with information relevant to the current edit. Avid users can export AS-11 compliant video files for submission to broadcasters, but won't be involved in creating the complex XML package that is also needed.

Matthew Gyves, Senior Manager, Professional Video Team, Adobe then gave a great demo of Premiere itself. Here's the order of the features he thought relevant - as he only had 30 minutes:

  1. No rendering needed - no transcoding
  2. Flexible interchange using AAF and Final Cut Pro 7 XML
  3. Adobe Story - using a text transcription from a clip, speech to text means you can select a phrase in the transcription to set an in and out point for the clip
  4. Integration with Adobe After Effects - sending a clip, making changes in AE - instant update in Premiere
  5. Integration with Adobe SpeedGrade - same timeline in grading application, all changes implemented as non-destructive effects applied to clips
  6. Integration with Adobe Audition - fixing an audio problem in a single clip using Photoshop-like 'heal' tool to remove a syllable
  7. Features in After Effects now built into Premiere - Footage stabilisation
  8. Many effects have masks that can track features in footage
  9. Integration with After Effects - If you need to make text changes in a title, you don't have to visit AE. Text now editable in Premiere Pro.

Selling to Premiere to Avid editors

After these two technical presentations, we were treated to a pair of interesting case studies: quick turnaround music TV programme production from Jon Walton of My Little Eye productions and using multicam features to manage multiple takes in a short video, presented by William H. W. Read

For variety, Ben Foakes of We Are One Media gave a presentation about how much could change in post production in coming years. With wider availability of fast internet connections he predicts that production houses will become virtualized: the media and rendering power will be in the cloud - fast connections will mean that editors will use NLEs that transfer commands to the cloud. The cloud will then do whatever media access and rendering needed with the UI on the local computer being updated at 50 frames per second. Adobe Anywhere is a step in this direction.

The last speaker was Ollie Tait, Managing Director of Lambent Productions. He described the first full production that used the new Production Modernisation programme: The Pity of War - a documentary drama starring John Hurt. He explained that the Mio-managed file-based workflow saved them money.

  • Less ingest cost
  • Less storage cost
  • Editor can use low-end system to edit in production office - not locked away in expensive edit suite
  • No tape deck hire, no tapes
  • Biggest saving: no conform costs

An extra expense was the extra two weeks for the editor to get used to Premiere Pro - 6 weeks of editing for an hour-long drama instead of 4.

Ollie described the savings in post production as being enough for a low-budget drama documentary to be able to afford to hire John Hurt. 

Final Cut What?

Final Cut Pro doesn't seem relevant to ITV Studios productions at the moment. The resentment and mistrust of Apple seems to be present three years after Final Cut Pro 7 was suddenly discontinued. One of the main advantages of Premiere over Avid that was presented was the lack of any need to transcode footage - a feature available also in Final Cut Pro X, but irrelevant to those in the room who only took Final Cut Pro in its version 7 incarnation seriously. For many busy freelancers, the lack of layers is still a strong disincentive for them to set aside the hours to learn a completely new editing application.

Despite all the enthusiasm Final Cut Pro fans have, it looks like it will be a long time until their favorite application is a peer to Media Composer and Premiere Pro in UK TV post. In order for Apple to invest in regaining trust and opening up to third-party partnerships, they'll have to see the potential benefit to their bottom line. Will the fact that popular TV shows are edited using Final Cut encourage more people to spend $300 on an editing application? If an extra 20,000 copies are sold, then it will be worth Apple's investment.

In the coming months we'll see if Apple supports a range high-end TV and film productions. In practice that means collaborating with companies like L.A.-based FCPWorks in other parts of the world.

  

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