Bulletproof ScriptSync!

ScriptSync in Six Easy Steps

For those maybe unfamiliar with (or those just getting started with) Avid Media Composer ScriptSync functions, I thought I would share my Six Step Process for Bulletproof ScriptSync. I first developed these steps as a hand-out for my two-day NAB seminar in documentary storytelling. But now that my regular edit schedule pretty much cuts out NAB, I thought I would share these via the Avid Blogs.

In this post, I will describe my ScriptSync technique for Documentary and other interview based programing. Then with the help of Hillary Wills (@ChillyKillary), we will outline the Hollywood technique that Michael Phillips (now at 24p.com) had originally designed the program for. I really hope you find these techniques useful in your work.

For those who never heard of this Avid feature, ScriptSync phonetically indexes all text and audible dialog in your project automatically and then syncs each source clip to its associated line in a text script. Once synced, you can quickly locate all relevant soundbites in seconds based on a scene number, page number, or word or phrase search.

For demonstration purposes, I am going to outline my process for creating interview ScriptSync bins. While they may not LOOK like bins, they are defined as bins by the software, according to the guy that designed it, Alan Swartz. Swartz did the original programing at Avid with Phillips and continues to work on ScriptSync to this day.  Anyway, every step I outline here for interview ScriptSync bins goes with the understanding that this technique could be used for speeches, live-events, podcast, or any other audio that can be transcribed into words.


Transcribe Your Audio

I can’t tell you how often I hear people say that they don’t transcribe the interviews. This is nonsense. Without transcripts and ScriptSync, you are wasting a colossal amount of time. Chris Bové (@heybove) did some testing that resulted in his edit time cut by HALF when using transcripts and ScriptSync. I’m sure that kind of savings will get your Producer’s attention fast. So start transcribing, and upgrade your avid license to include ScriptSync.

Honestly there really is no excuse not to transcribe audio; there are many inexpensive ways to get these transcriptions via the web. The best transcripts are always the ones done by a human. And over the course of a documentary this can add up, but transcripts can also be done online via computer algorithms. Rev.com is good and popular service (rev.com) at about a dollar a page. I use SpeedScriber (speedscriber.com) for about half that, to generate cheap-fast-turnaround transcriptions. Trint (trint.com) is half that price again. Also with good results. However, if you use an online service like SpeedScriber, please note that you WILL have to go over the transcript and correct errors in the AI algorithm. This can take some time. SpeedScriber has some excellent tools to do that efficiently, but whatever method you choose remember: Fast Cheep or Good, pick two.

Now that you have your transcripts, let’s get started.


Step One: Collect All Text Data

Per interview subject create one transcript document.  Do this! Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. It is important to gather into one document all the text of a given interview – even if it is generated across many media files or even across multiple shoots. You don’t want to be guessing which shoot that particular soundbite came from across multiple ScriptSync bins. One transcript for each individual interview (or speech, or event) One script for One soundbite source.

Now here is the killer part: these transcripts DO NOT NEED A TIMECODE reference. With ScriptSync Timecode is irrelevant. In fact having that tab in the document screws up the formatting for the Avid Media Composer, and those columns must be deleted before moving on. Timecode is linear, man! So old-school! We’re all non-linear now. Embrace it!


Step Two: Format the document for the Media Composer

Open the transcript document in MS Word. Under the “View” Menu choose “Print Layout.” And be sure the “Ribbon” and “Ruler” options are also selected.  Now IF your document is set up with a Table of Columns and Rows (maybe including timecode reference) and is NOT just a document of text, you must copy the column of text only and paste that text into a new document. I do this by clicking with the mouse on the very top of the first column, just when the cursor becomes a little down arrow. Then by clicking you’ve selected all the text in that column.  Copy and paste that selection into a new blank document. Under the Layout menu on the document look to the far right for the “convert to text” button.

Now, select ALL the text in your text only document, and using the ‘formatting palette” in the “Style” menu, select “Normal.” This ensures that all the text is the same font and size (it should be anyway, but just in case as a wrong format line can screw up formatting in the Media Composer).

Select all text and adjust your margins. The left might get tricky with a two-step process but then find the “right-indent carat” (little triangle thing) at the right margin of the page. (should be around the 6” mark in the formatting ruler) Slide this Margin indicator carat over from 6.5 inches to 3 inches. Note how the text wraps around the new margin as you adjust it.

Changing the right margin is the MOST important step of preparing a document for ScriptSync. This format change reduces the horizontal space used by the text on the screen when opened in the Avid Media Composer. This step brings down the text to a manageable size and prevents the script bin sizes from overtaking the space on the bin monitor. Remember you are going to have one transcript for each speaker, you don’t want each one taking up the whole screen. I often work with as many as twenty (nested in tabs) ScriptSync Bins open at one time. Monitor real estate gets eaten up fast. Small ScriptSync bins are key.

Step Three: Saving the document

To prep text for the Avid Media Composer, you have to save it as text only. This can get tricky, so pay attention. After the transcript has been formatted, chose “save as”  and under the “File” menu tree. This will bring up a dialogue box requesting you to select the format you wish to save the document in. Near the bottom click where is says “Microsoft  Word document,” and select “Text Only.” This will bring up a dialogue box where you need to make the following selections. Yes to insert line breaks, yes to end lines with CR/LF (character return / line feed), and yes to allow character substitution.  Save your text document (make sure it has the “.txt” extension.)

Step Four: Importing into the Avid

Once the text transcript is saved, boot up the Avid Media Composer and select the project window (command/control 9). With NO bins selected, chose “New Script” under the “File” menu and find your “Text only” transcript. And Boom! The Avid will import the transcript with a three Inch margin on the text in the bin monitor. If your text is bigger than 3 inches, then not all text was selected when formatting the document in step two. Also your ScriptSync Bin window maybe wider than the text, no worries, just adjust the size of the bin window down to about 300-400 pixels in the “Text Layout Tool” (found in the Script menu tree) and your ScriptSync bin is ready for the next step.

Step Five: Combining digitized clips to the transcript bin

With the interviews digitized and the script imported, simply drag a highlight box over the text that contains the transcript for digitized clip. Then drag the clip from the footage bin and drop it onto highlighted text area in the ScriptSync transcript bin. Now, Look under the “Script” menu tree and enable “Interpolation Position” is checked.

Now at this point, you have the basic integration of the transcript with the Media Clip. This is called script-interpolation it works on the principle that there is a direct relationship between how long the “clip” is and how long the “body of text” selected is. Therefore with interpolation on, half way through the selected text will be half way through the length of the selected clip. Does that make sense? This assumes we all speak at the same speed for the whole interview. So the clip will probably need fine-tuning.

Before ScriptSync this was how we used transcripts and scripts in the Media Composer. The steps for manually fine tuning this “Script Interpolation” can be found on one of my videos tutorials on Vimeo (vimeo.com/160243908). I suggest you upgrade your MediaComposer to include ScriptSync as it is much faster and basically an automatic finetuning of the sync between the transcript and the clip. BUT in a pinch there is a way to move forward to the same results – watch that tutorial – then upgrade. You will be forever thanking me.


Step Six: Fine-tune the transcript using ScriptSync

If you have a ScriptSync license we can move onto the next step (If not you’ll wish you upgraded your license when you see this). With any portion of a clip highlighted in the script window or command A to select all clips in the transcript, go to the script menu in the avid and select “ScriptSync.”  This will call up a new window with some options. The default generally work and I would only change them if you were not getting a good lock on the script.

The results are mind blowing. The accuracy is down to the phonics. And works in 33 languages.

Once the script has been processed by ScriptSync, finding a soundbite in that script becomes super easy. Use “Command/Control F” to find a word or phrase in the transcript. (make sure you are in the script part of the find window) Select “Current Script” and “Ignore Case” so you don’t have to be case-specific text as you type. Enter the text you are looking for, hit “Enter” and the text will be highlighted in the transcript ScriptSync bin. If the first phrase you find is not the one you are looking for hit “Command/Control G” and ScriptSync will find the next instance of that phrase in the transcript. It’s that easy!

NOW, if you don’t select “Current Script” in the find window, it will find the phrase you type in ALL transcripts. How many times has the director said, I know somebody says this… PhraseFind is also very handy for this type of bite hunting.

The real gem of ScriptSync is what I call infection bending. Say you have a sound bite that you need to cut down at a point where the subject is on a roll and instead of sounding like the end of a bite it sounds like the person is in upspeak. In the transcript, find the same word followed by a period (instead of a comma) and cut that audio in at the end of the selected bite. Boom Upspeak gone. Inflection bending.

Ok so that is it. My six steps for easy ScriptSync. I hope you found this post useful. Find me online on Twitter to ask any questions or comment below.


Hat-Tip thanks: Conclusion

Before I end, I’d like to toss out a hat-tip for the inspiration for this post. It goes to Tim Leavitt (@leavitt_to_tim) who wrote the seminal piece called Bulletproof Avid MultiGroups. Brother I have used that page so often I can’t even count that high. Thanks. Check out his blog post on MultiGroups.


BONUS: Fine-tune Script-Interpolation Manually

The manual method is easy enough, here is a short outline. After completing Step Five above, go to the top of the transcript and select (using the mouse) a small body of text.

Then hit the record button at the top left of the script bin. The clip will play on the play side of the Composer window. Read along with the transcript as the clip plays. Find the spot on the transcript where you hear and read what the clip is playing. Click on the vertical line crossing the text (representing the media clip) Stop playback by clicking on the play-side of the composer window. You have now “Locked the top of your transcript for that section you highlighted.

Now go to the bottom of the transcript and “lock that” in the same way. With the top and bottom locked, go back up and scroll down and page or two on the transcript. Repeat. Do this for the entire transcript jumping every few pages (more if you find sync has been achieved). Repeat for all transcripts. Now understand that this is still an approximation and if you’re lucky you‘ll land on the searched for word, but this method has the advantage of becoming more accurate as you continue to work with the transcript in your edit session. By the time you are looking for a quick turn of a phrase to really sharpen your narrative near the end of the edit all your transcripts will be as tight as they are with ScriptSync. Being a line off or two at the beginning of an edit is immaterial at that point. We worked this way only for years at FRONTLINE and never thought it a hindrance.

For those who might want to watch the process unfold in a video tutorial, I have three for you. You can find them on my vimeo page. The first for those using the automatic ScriptSync process. (Avid ScriptSync™ for Documentary Transcripts). The second outlines the manual steps (Avid Media Composer Script Interpolation). And finally I have an updated version outlining some newer features. (New and improved ScriptSync and PhraseFind …) I hope between my videos and this post more editors will embarrass the excellent benefits of editing with ScriptSync.

Honestly though, GET SCRIPTSYNC. It will change your life editing, and you will thank me everyday. See you all online…

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Connect 2019 — A Personal Reflection

Last year I had the opportunity to attend Avid Connect, and boy was I glad I did! It is something not to miss. This year Avid Connect and NAB occur during a very busy time in my broadcast schedule, preventing my attendance. So in my stead, if you can go – Go! Here’s why.

There is nothing quite like meeting and talking to new people who share a common passion, like the Avid Connect Community. Sure, the unstoppable Marianna Montague hovers like an angel in our social media universe, Wim Van den Broeck is always there with a supportive contact, and the active Avid online community is always ready with wisdom and solutions – but it’s not the same as attending Avid Connect in person.

Steve Audette with Marianna Montague

For years I chatted up Media Composer users and Avid folks online. Our relationships grew, and I thought they were strong, but social media cannot compete with the in-person experiences that Avid Connect offers. Avid Connect is rewarding, both personally and professionally.

My dear friends Chris Bové and others from the Avid Editors of Facebook group, as well as the Avid Technology folks themselves like Dave Colantuoni and even my relationship with Jeff Rosica are all closer and more connected by having that personal – and in-person – opportunity. We are now deeply connected as friends in the old sense of the word, and it’s refreshing.

Steve Audette and Chris Bové

Think about it: Reading a block of text from Steve Hullfish or following instructions online cannot show the reader the author’s true personality. It takes a person-to-person conversation. The shared experience builds stronger bonds of professional and personal relationships.

Do you have a complicated problem that is unique to your workflow? There’s no better way to work out the kinks – and truly understand the dilemma – than with a one-on-one session with a fellow Avid Community member, not necessarily even an Avid Technology person.

Then there are the vendors at Avid Connect. Several times last year I walked up to the Boris or HP booth with a question. One-on-one answers and personal attention is so rewarding, and in a wonderful synergy, further discussion follows as other Avid Connect participants chime in with their experiences. The sum becomes greater than the whole. All working and living in the Avid Media world.

One of my favorite moments from Avid Connect was sitting next to people I didn’t know in the general sessions and hearing about their experiences with Avid technology. If you go, I highly recommend this technique. It expands your network of friends and professional opportunities. I got two freelance gigs from last year’s Avid Connect. There are even more of these kinds of opportunities to be had. Furthermore, the general sessions are well-organized and informative, focused on a range of issues I found interesting.

The breakout sessions were also informative and educational, expanding my experience beyond the documentary world I tend to live in. I liked the focus on the latest technology trends and showing me other areas of work that I had never considered. Sure, some were duds to me, but they were all well-attended and I believe most of the audience was glad they went.

Finally, Avid Connect isn’t all about what is provided by Avid; it is really all about what you go and get from it. If you haven’t been, I recommend it; I am sure it will expand your professional network. If you’ve attended and not found it as rewarding as I describe here, then I suggest please go again and bring what you found wanting– share that – and discover how quickly you will connect with a group of people who share your concerns. Go and find out what it is like to be part of our Avid Connect community.

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ScriptSync is Baaaaack!!! …And PhraseFind Too!

As many of you know I have been a big fan of ScriptSync since it was first developed almost 20 years ago. Originally designed for Hollywood scripts, editors of every genre soon adopted the technology; with the addition of PhraseFind, the game of editing changed forever. There is no question that anyone who has used these two features can cut their overall edit time down by weeks. Tell that to the producer who questions the budget when adding these features to your Media Composer.

Back in the day, with ScriptSync and PhraseFind – life was beautiful. That is until that fateful day when Version 8 of the Media Composer software did not contain these two powerful tools. Boy, was that a dark day. Fortunately there were a few workarounds (see my Vimeo page) but the fixes were never an elegant solution.

Well that’s not the case anymore – finally with version 8.8 of Media Composer the two most powerful features of any NLE have been licensed and incorporated back into the software; it’s game changer kids, a game changer.


I was lucky enough to get an early release of the two options and boy does it feel good not to be stuck on version 7 of Media Composer any longer.

TOP OF MY LIST: I can now edit the copy in my transcript. What, you say? Won’t that screw up the markers and pull your clip out of sync with the copy? Well, NO! The programmers at Avid were way ahead of you there. You go into “Edit Mode”, which has its own little icon, and BOOM! – a blue highlight to the left of the copy lets you know you are in “Edit Mode” and can correct or add copy as you wish, and the MARKERS MOVE DOWN THE COPY AS YOU TYPE!!!!

Wow that is so cool. I am working on a project that the intern transcribed and did not include the copy of the questions. Now the intern can fix that, at night, alone, in the dark, while I’m off at some cocktail party…

One little user issue that I have found is that I tend to forget to turn OFF “Edit Mode.” Then you can’t use ScriptSync like you are used too. The blue highlight to the left is your signal that you need to turn “Edit |Mode” off after you have added or corrected copy to get the tool working as expected. Not a big deal, operator error…

The original incarnation of ScriptSync would not display clips in the correct aspect ratio. It wasn’t that big a deal, but it feels better now that they appear correctly.

Finally, the interface  is clean and includes options like line numbers and interface rows to help with longer lines of text. The background can be white, or the color of your bin setting. It all looks very sharp.

“ScriptSync is back baby! And I love it. Like an old friend…”

—Steve Audette, ACE

Having said that, the script bin window UI feels a bit “work in progress” if you know what I mean. In the old days the bin window was subject to the margins of the text file that was imported. That’s no longer the case – the text file margin is what you expect, but the bin is HUGE, taking up most of your Bin Monitor. Now, you CAN bring the left side of the bin over, and the bin window DOES remember the size and layout as you save it, but selecting text to copy out of the script window and into a Final Draft or Word document (or Google Docs) can be a bit tricky, as the window in which you are selecting is really quite wide (in fact, the left side of the bin window is not locked either, as you select text, so it can get confusing where you are). Also, the lasso feature to select text is a bit off when you hit the top or bottom of the bin window. The interface stutters and hesitates as it scrolls up or down past the text displayed on screen. These are not deal breakers for me as this too is so powerful, but I hope they get worked out over time.

PhraseFind, the little sister to ScriptSync is also BACK!! I have never used this tool as much as many of my fellow editors but boy, I will in the future. Recently we were cutting the Frontline documentary and a large part of the narrative was told in the voice of new reporters and talk radio. It would have been very handy to search for phrases and review the best ones for the cut, rather than listening to one at a time in a bin.  This is going to be a big part of my future cutting. NO transcripts required!!!


For my fellow editors that are new to this software, you might find that there is an initial pause as you do your first search where Media Composer seems to take its time to give you a list of phrases, but all future searches come up strong and fast.

Both these tools are invaluable for any editor that has copy, so unless you are cutting art films or silent films I really cannot think of a reason you should not add these two options to your tool kit and start kicking you-know-what in the edit room.

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The Art and the Craft of Cutting Docs Told Through Timeline Tuesday

As soon as I read the first #TimelineTuesday I knew I was going jump in. To me the timeline is the most illustrious and informative description of a sequence. So important that more of my Composer Monitor is taken up by the timeline then any other tool on that screen.

Timeline of award-winning PBS FRONTLINE documentary 'Bush's War'

I think of the Media Composer’s timeline as the EDL of non-linear editing. Back in the days of GVG and CMX I read EDLs and would see the program in my mind, now I do the same with a sequence. I strongly believe cutting is an art and it is important to share the editor’s craft with others—especially within the Avid Media Composer community. So presented here is my story with #TimelineTuesday.

Just look at any timeline and one can see the pace, the rhythms and the problems. If the tracks of audio and video are consistent, one can see things like—when there is too much narration or too little. (Can there ever be too little narration?)

In the image on the left my narration is on track four. You can see how there is a frequency to that—and all other tracks. On the right, there’s a close up of how I lay out my tracks.


When I started posting I didn’t have a focus to my tweets, and occasionally I’d just post a Vine video or I posted finished timelines, or timelines that I thought would have some visual impact.


Later, I felt that the shots did not portray the full dynamic quality of a timeline. Timelines grow and change. I wanted to capture that, so started to post different images.

In some I illustrated a progression…

…and in others a comparison.

Sometimes I would tweet a particular element of my cutting style, like an “audio-fugue.”

Then I got into this whole crazy idea of showing timelines in stacks.

I quickly went to more complicated stacks. The goal was to share how my cuts build.

I wanted to start a conversation with these posts. I like to think of myself as part of the #TuesdayTimeline crowd, and I enjoy the community of editors willing to share.  In fact I am always surprised how many of my posts are commented on and re-tweeted. And on Facebook they frequently cause opportunities for discussion.

However I must confess that many weeks I am too busy to post – even though I’d like to. The pressure of a FRONTLINE deadline can sidetrack tweeting.

Sometimes I go “old-school” and show timelines in person (while teaching documentary story structure and the use of visual and aural systems in the narrative).

Eventually I started sharing time-lapses of the timeline.

Posting a time-lapse really shows the progression of a building timeline. I enjoy these and plan to make more of them. Maybe with audio commentary added to put them in a better context.

In the end it doesn’t matter how complex or simple the timeline is, share what you have and we can all learn from each other’s examples.

Let’s grow #TimelineTuesday. If you have any questions about my documentary work or my timelines, please leave a comment below or hit me up on twitter @stevecutsdocs. And let’s have some fun along the way. See you all on twitter.

All cool cats love things that tweet.


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