Editing a 30-Second Commercial for St. Louis Zoo—the Perfect Job for Avid Media Composer

By in Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing

When I was in film school, I didn’t like Avid at all. Back then, I felt it was too cumbersome, too complicated, and too strict. “What do you mean I can’t just drag and drop the footage to my timeline?” I avoided Avid for years, working in Final Cut Pro and Premiere instead.

Fast forward to May 2015. I was asked to edit and color a commercial for the St. Louis Zoo. With only a week to edit, tweak and color the entire spot, I decided this was the perfect job for Media Composer; the short deadline would push me to learn more about Avid and its tools, all with the added pressure of delivering broadcast-level content.

The spot focuses on a little boy who loves polar bears. The director of the spot was Jason Stamp, someone I’ve worked with on and off since 2011. He directed my first big pieces for RAM Trucks and Chrysler when I was editing out of Boston. “Think Disney”, he said on our first conference call. “Keep it really light, really cute.”

There wasn’t a lot of footage, so I decided to test out Avid’s AMA capabilities by importing the ProRes files directly without transcoding. I don’t have an assistant, so all the grouping and bin organization fell on me. It was a small project, but I organized it like a major one, breaking footage into scenes, then scenes to selects. People often downplay the role of organization in a project but without it, valuable time can be lost searching for a particular shot, sound effect or music cue. Being able to designate certain assets with certain colors is immensely helpful with this. I can look at a timeline and instantly know where my VO, SFX, VFX and music are.

Work in progress timeline—notice the color coded shots and labeled tracks

With Jason’s “Think Disney” direction in mind, I pulled selects based on my gut reactions to the footage: Did I smile? Did I laugh? Did I say “awww” deep inside? The editing had to be as honest as possible.

It’s also important to provide options to the client. I delivered two different rough cuts in the first round. One stuck close to the storyboard while the other utilized extra CUs and an alternate approach to the stuffed polar bear drop. My ending of choice returned to the boy and his mother during the final “Didja’ know?”. It felt more natural to end on our main characters.

The trickiest part of editing a commercial is finding the rhythm within a very short time frame. You have to find the happy medium between performance and timing. We only had about 17 seconds for the scripted dialogue and the rest was saved for a Call To Action and an End Card. Thankfully, the actor gave a lot of great reads so we didn’t have to sacrifice too much to fit in the timeframe.

SpectraMatte and the resulting shot

Our money shot of the boy looking into the polar bear tank was a composite. Usually I jump into After Effects for this but I created a great temp effect using the SpectraMatte and Color Effect. The depth of Avid’s video and audio tools is a huge asset; I can create complex keying, roto, paint and motion effects without ever leaving Media Composer.

The color was done in DaVinci Resolve and we round-tripped back to Avid. This gave us extra flexibility to adjust music and audio in the final stages before receiving our completed sound mix. When all the pieces were finally in place, I consolidated my timeline to mix and color and rendered out ProRes files for trafficking.

Final timeline for the :30 spot

Avid Media Composer is a workhorse. It takes some getting used to, but my opinion of it has changed greatly. Every new update has given me extra flexibility without sacrificing its fundamentals, making it the most reliable NLE of the bunch. Since the St. Louis Zoo project, I have worked on a short student film and an indie feature, both in Avid. I’m excited to use it on even bigger projects in the future.

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I’m an LA-based editor of award-winning short films, documentaries and commercials. As a child, I loved to draw and people often asked me if I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. Matter-of-factly I’d answer, "No, because I already AM an artist."