Understanding Filler

By in Video Editing

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest contribution from Avid Certified Instructor and Avid Media Composer Cookbook author Benjamin Hershleder. You can follow Benjamin on Twitter at @Hershleder.

Hello! My name is Benjamin Hershleder and I’m pleased to be a contributor to the Avid Media Composer Community. This is my first blog entry, and hopefully there will be more in the future, as my schedule allows.

With the addition of a new ability in Media Composer version 6.5.2 which allows us to move multiple segments with Segment Mode without the requirement of also selecting adjacent Filler (if it exists between segments), I was thinking about how many of the editors who are beginning to add Media Composer to their digital tool kit are often initially confused by Filler. This tends to happen because applications such as Final Cut Pro do not work in the same way with regard to Filler (which the designers of FCP called “Slug”).

Understanding what Filler is inside of Avid Media Composer will help you to stay in sync. So, let’s briefly examine what Filler is and the logic of why Avid Media Composer uses it. Then I’ll share what I’ve come to call “The Core Concepts of Sync.” The following is a shortened excerpt from Chapter 5 of my recently published book “Avid Media Composer Cookbook.”

Avid Media Composer is a blend of editing methods, concepts and terminology, many of which come from film and videotape editing. Filler is a concept which comes directly from film editing. However, in film editing, it isn’t called Filler, it’s called “Slug” or “Leader.” Essentially, Slug/Filler is a spacer that keeps all the tracks of picture and sound exactly the same length (duration) and, consequently, keeps them in sync. Just like Slug in film editing, Filler occupies space in your Sequence just like any other segment (shot) does. A good analogy is that Filler is a segment of black video or a segment of silent audio. Understanding that Filler is a segment, just like all other segments of picture and sound in your sequence, will help a great deal in understanding the behavior of the editing tools in Media Composer.

So you can see what film editing looks like, below is an image of what is called a flatbed film editing machine, made by a company called Steenbeck (I edited my undergraduate, 16mm thesis film on this machine). Each of the silver platters holds a roll of film (the picture rolls go on the top two platters and the sound rolls go on the lower two platters). The source rolls would be on the left and the take-up rolls on the right. You can think of each roll as being just like a track in Avid Media Composer.

Below is an image (courtesy of Roger Shufflebottom) of a smaller, single-viewer Steenbeck, with the picture and sound rolls loaded.

In my book, before I cover specific methods of staying in sync and fixing broken sync, I provide some fundamental information that helps to explain the programming of the software, and ultimately help you to stay in sync. I have come to think of these as “The Core Concepts of Sync.” Below is a portion of that discussion.

  1. Filler occupies space in the Sequence just like any other segment (shot) does. You can think of Filler as a segment of black video or a segment of silent audio.
  2. Yellow tools (Splice, Extract, Ripple Trim) always change the duration of a track by either adding or removing material. Also, depending on how it’s used, the yellow Extract/Splice-In Segment Mode Tool may also affect the duration of a track. Additionally, even though it’s not yellow, there is a function called “Top and Tail” that performs an extraction as part of its programming, so it also affects duration on a track.
  3. Red tools (Overwrite, Lift, Overwrite Trim, and the Lift/Overwrite Segment Mode Tool) do not change a track’s overall duration (the only exception to this is if you Overwrite material at the very end of a Sequence). Therefore, these functions can not push material after the edit point (i.e. segments that are downstream) out of sync.
  4. Double-Roller Trim (a.k.a. Dual Roller Trim) and the Extend Function: While neither are red, these functions will not push material downstream out of sync. They do not add to a track’s duration because as you extend one segment on a track it removes material from the adjacent segment. In other words, no additional duration is added to the track because as one segment gets longer the other gets shorter by an equal amount.
  5. Now that you have that information, Here are the two important things to note in order to stay in sync:

A) Any function/tool that can change the duration of a track has the possibility of placing your tracks out of sync.

B) As long as you perform the same duration-changing editing operation on all tracks (meaning that you’re affecting all the tracks by an equal duration) then you will stay in sync. In other words: If you add material to one or more tracks using Splice (yellow) or Ripple Trim (yellow), then you must add an equal amount/duration of material to all the other tracks to maintain sync. Similarly, if you remove material from one or more tracks using Extract (yellow) or Ripple Trim (yellow), then you must remove an equal amount/duration of material from all the other tracks to maintain sync.

For additional details and specific examples on this topic (and many others), please take advantage of all the explanations, tips, tricks, and step-by-step help offered in “Avid Media Composer Cookbook”.

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Benjamin Hershleder has been an Avid Certified instructor since 1997, and is the author of "Avid Media Composer Cookbook". He provides private Avid training in addition to being a freelance editor and director, as well as an adjunct professor at American Film Institute in Los Angeles.