Editing Continues to Evolve with Needful Things
Heuring, David, American Cinematographer
Cutting on the keyboard: feature film editing takes another step towards the digital future.
Editor Rob Kobrin is well-prepared for his position at the confluence of film, video and computers. Through the mid-1980s, he built up a wide range of postproduction experience, which led to a spot as an assistant to director John Avildsen on The Karate Kid. Avildsen, an editor himself, was using VHS videotape to pre-edit scenes. During this and other early experiments with video as an editing tool, Kobrin endured the fits and starts associated with the infancy of electronic nonlinear editing systems.
In 1988, Kobrin used the Ediflex editing system while serving as editorial assistant for director Robert Altman on Tanner '88. That same year, he assisted on Freeway, which may have been the first feature to attempt, using a converted Ediflex, a 24 frames-per-second (fps) electronic edit. Kobrin edited Social Suicide, his first electronic feature, four years ago. His second feature was cut on The Link, a tape-based nonlinear editing system.
This year Kobrin brought his nonlinear editing expertise to bear on Needful Things, a Stephen King novel-turned-feature produced by Castle Rock Entertainment. The film stars Max von Sydow, Ed Harris and Bonnie Bedelia. Production lasted 66 days at locations that included Gibson Landing, British Columbia (two hours north of Vancouver) and North Shore Studios in Vancouver. Needful Things was directed by Fraser Heston, photographed by Tony Westman and produced by Jack Cummins.
At the time Kobrin came onto the picture, he had recently finished editing Charlton Heston Presents The Bible, a series of four fone-hour documentaries, using the Avid Media Composer and finishing in video for release on the Arts & Entertainment network. Heston and Kobrin, having worked together on the Bible project, felt that the mix of creative and technological elements was right. After consulting with Avid, they made the decision to use the Media Composer to edit Needful Things.
Key to their decision was Avid Technology's new Film Composer option. Tom Ohanian, chief editor at Avid, explains that the Film Option takes film images transferred via telecine to 30fps videotape and digitizes at the film rate of 24fps. Before and during the project, further informational and strategic discussions took place between Kobrin and Film Option software architects Michael Phillips, Patrick O'Connor, software support Kate Trump and Ohanian.
Electronic editing has for years been billed as a faster, cheaper way of editing. Kobrin's attraction, however, is of a more noble nature - enhanced creativity. There is no argument about the convenience of random access offline editing. The ability to make several non-destructive versions of a scene and compare them on the spot is itself a quantum leap in editing. Kobrin insists that 'The decision to use Avid to edit Needful Things was not based on economics or schedule parameters, but rather on creative advantages that the technology offers. It was up to me to deliver those superior services at competitive costs. The bottom line is basically that one can make better-informed decisions. When the director and I talk about a possible path to pursue with a particular scene, we don't have to imagine; the answer is always, 'Let's try it.' We're free to try all of our ideas without losing efficiency."
Traditionally, some of the opposition to editing features electronically has stemmed from the lack of precision involved in 30-frame editing when the final product will be projected at 24fps. Remedies were often perceived as inadequate with today's split-second cuts and tightly choreographed action sequences. Editors felt compromised. According to Kobrin, the Avid's film option allows all editing to take place at a true film rate of 24fps rather than the video rate of 30fps.
"The benefit is that the director and I got to see the exact frames that would be involved in the cut. …