Unlocking the Power of Avid PhraseFind

By in Video Editing

PhraseFind is an Avid product that lives inside Media Composer, and allows editors to search their Media Composer project for specific dialogue moments in clips phonetically – that is, by the sounds of the words. It’s like a private detective, listening to all of the voices in a project, and then making that info accessible through a simple “Find” window.

Long-format projects such as broadcast documentary need PhraseFind desperately. For decades, things just took a lot longer. Filmmakers and video editors were limited by existing workflows. They knew that phonetic indexing would happen in some far-off, Buck Rogers future, but the technology just wasn’t there yet. Then in 2011, Avid PhraseFind was released. Every editor went nuts.

PhraseFind has more than one major use. While its primary purpose is practical, helping editors find words phonetically, a secondary result is financially based. PhraseFind offers a huge boost in efficiency, which has resulted in a noticeable reduction in edit schedules.  Non-linear editing in general has already caused a profound reduction in the amount of slow, linear searching and editing of clips.

When you’re banging-out a script as fast as possible, and everyone gets into a room for a rough cut screening, at many points the question comes up, “Does that interviewee or actor or commercial talent say that word or phrase better somewhere else?” Often because a sentence sounds unfinished or there’s an odd sound on the tape during that word. If the EP or the producer is in the room asking this, classically everyone would’ve gone diving into transcripts for the answer, and it would become something to check later. Or the EP and the producer would be forced to sit there talking about whatever while the editor would go grab the tape, pop it into the machine, listen for better iterations of the word or phrase… the process just took too long and it had everyone asking the same question: “Someday will Avid invent a thing that can listen to all of the audio and tell us where all of the syllables, vowels and like-sounding words can be found? Will they make editing happen phonetically?”

Here is the Find Tool. I’m glad PhraseFind is accessed with the Find Tool because it floats over all other bins and interfaces in Avid. It’s not locked away inside script-based editing or some other workflow you have to learn. Everything to do with searching for something, be it script text or phonetic text, is right there.

To really get good at PhraseFind, you’ll need to start thinking phonetically. Let me rephrase… You’ll need to start thinking “fun net tick lee”. If you don’t, you’ll actually be capping your chances of getting good responses. For example, search for the abbreviation for Los Angeles by typing “L.A.”, and then search for “el lay” or “elle ay” or “L A” with spaces and without the punctuation. PhraseFind will give you better results if you think like a microphone, not like a dictionary.

The whole phonetic concept applies to foreign languages as well. Currently you can download and install only one Language Pack for PhraseFind and ScriptSync at a time. That’s usually fine for most editors, unless they’re working on a multi-lingual project. Then they worry. However with PhraseFind that doesn’t matter. For example, let’s say you know that someone in the project speaking Japanese says “Hajimemashite” but you don’t find it anywhere. Using the American English version of PhraseFind, search for “ha gee may mosh day”. Aaah, there it is.

Here is Avid’s Marianna Montague walking us through the process of purchasing and activating Avid PhraseFind.

Since PhraseFind works better based on how it’s used, the true secret weapon is an editor’s own skill and enthusiasm to work harder. It’s an app that exists because most of us no longer have days or weeks to overly pre-organize projects. If we’re lucky we get scripts. If we’re really lucky we get transcripts. Occasionally we get a little time to screen the footage, but quite often, guerilla filmmaking on a grassroots budget hits our edit rooms. We’re sitting there, responsible for getting that ten-minute’s worth of finished rough-cut done and out the door for approvals before 5:00pm.

With Avid ScriptSync, editors can sync script words to their video in seconds, rather than hours. Don’t miss my upcoming webinar—Register here.

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I have spent 20 years as an editor and a story editor on films, docs and TV shows. Working at the highest-rated PBS station in the USA, I have created more than 200 hours of broadcast programming—all on Avid Media Composer.