The State of the NLE in Indian Film and TV
by Neil Sadwelkar
This is my first of what is planned as a regular column on trending technologies in post, NLE, VFX and so forth. So, to start with, a look at the state of Non-Linear Editing systems in Mumbai and India, as we enter the last quarter of 2019, and into the last year of the second decade of this century.
Avid Media Composer
Avid Media Composer is by far the favourite among editing systems for mainstream theatrically released films. Avid’s media handling particularly for long timelines, large amounts of media, and organisational capabilities, is unparalleled.
Over the years, Avid has changed drastically. It’s not a system any more, but just a software, and users add their own system, monitors, speakers, and hard drives. Avid software is available as subscription, so one pays monthly or annually. Of course, resellers also sell complete systems, and Avid also provides information on ‘ideal’ systems, that expert users can buy and configure.
One huge change that has happened to Avid is, in 2019, for the first time in 30 years (yes, since 1989) the interface underwent a complete overhaul in June this year. The new Avid no longer looks and feels like Avid one has known for decades. This is a good and refreshing change as long as one spends time studying new features. Some call it Avid’s ‘FCP X moment’, but time will tell how this change goes down.
Avid is also the strongest in collaborative editing. Where more than one editor can work simultaneously on the same project and share assets like bins and clips. This is still being explored in India, and in the coming year, it could become a streamlining factor in the growing web series industry.
Avid Media Composer has Windows and Mac versions with the same feature set.
Final Cut Pro 7
In conventional TV editing, FCP 7, or Final Cut Pro 7 is still going strong and is very popular. FCP was developed as versions 1 to 7 over 2001-2009 with the last update to FCP 7 happening in 2010 and the software officially discontinued since 2011. FCP 7 has not been available as a product since the past eight years, but it still continues to be used in large numbers in India.
Large pool of familiar editors, easy to learn and start basic editing, rapid timeline work, easy bin and project management, uncomplicated import and export, compatibility with tape sources, and ProRes, make it the mainstay of TV in India, even today. But FCP 7 needs an older Mac system to run and since about two years, no new Mac can run FCP 7, so it’s a matter of time before it will be difficult to find a system to run FCP 7.
Its age is rapidly getting apparent. FCP 7 cannot use memory over 4 GB, cannot directly import many new camera formats, has sketchy support for 4k resolution workflows, and in later versions of macOS, has uncertain handling of colour spaces. 2020 may be the last year for the widespread use of FCP 7.
FCP 7 is Mac only and has no Windows version.
Adobe Premiere Pro
With the discontinuance of FCP 7 in 2011, Adobe Premiere Pro, the most similar editing software to FCP 7, has rapidly gained popularity in TV and other genres of films in India. It has been used in a few feature films, many a TV series and will likely completely replace FCP 7 unless some other software gains acceptance in the coming months.
Adobe Premiere Pro is available as Mac and Windows versions. And it’s available as a subscription for a little over a thousand rupees per month. Premiere Pro can be subscribed to on its own, or as a complete Adobe Creative Cloud subscription where one gets to use Photoshop, After Effects, Media Encoder and other Adobe software. Each subscription can be used on 2 systems, and you can even load it in multiple systems and sign in and out as you like.
Premiere handles many new camera formats natively, without conversion, but by caching. It can handle proxy making on its own. With built-in colour correction, advanced audio editing with Audition, and effects using After Effects and Photoshop, means you can edit and finish in the same suite without having to import/export EDLs or XMLs. Advanced finishing and effects within Premiere/After Effects needs a rather well specced computer system, and older systems may struggle to complete long projects.
Premiere’s support for exporting to other software like ProTools for audio or colour correction on Baselight or Resolve, is not as reliable as Avid’s unless care is taken with metadata, but this changes with every new release. Another great new feature in recent versions is the support for collaborative editing where multiple editors can work within the same project.
Premiere Pro has Windows and Mac versions with the same feature set.
After DaVinci’s takeover by Blackmagic, this became Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve some years ago. With newer versions 14 through 16, Blackmagic added other ‘modules’ to Resolve, and it isn’t just a colour correction system any more.
In the last two versions of Resolve, many new editing-friendly features have been added, and it is now a worthy successor to FCP 7 for those who are still on the fence. Resolve supports most camera formats natively, and has an in-built proxy and optimised file generation process for those file formats that don’t permit easy real-time playback.
Resolve has an integrated approach for activities beyond editing, like colour correction, VFX, and audio. It does this by having built-in modules called Fusion for VFX, Fairlight for audio editing/mixing, and of course, Resolve colour correction.
So, if one has acquired the skills to master Fairlight, Fusion and colour correction in Resolve, then one can edit and finish an entire film within Resolve itself. Alternately, a team of an editor, a sound engineer, a colourist, and a VFX artist can work alternately and within the same project without having to bother going back and forth via EDLs/XMLs as edit changes.
For larger or episodic projects, collaborative editing via a shared databases and shared media is another feature which works reliably and is easy to setup.
The best ‘feature’ of Resolve is that it has a full-featured (almost) free version, and even the full or Studio version is available for a reasonable one-time fee. Resolve has Windows and Mac versions with the same feature set.
FCP X, launched by Apple in a controversial manner in 2011, has, according to some sources sold nearly 3 million copies, and yet, is considered by many professional editors in India has having ‘flopped’ in the pro market. It’s true that not too many feature films or web series in India, are being cut on FCP X, but in the one-man band YouTuber and online video and Vlogger circle, FCP X is very popular.
Built around a database-based project (called Library), FCP X changes the usual terms for Project, Bin, Sequence, and has an innovative ‘magnetic’ timeline which novices find very easy to understand, and professionals find equally frustrating. Leading to its low acceptance amongst established editors.
FCP X is the most ‘different’ system from the others in many ways, and it takes a while to get used to its method. But, having gotten used to FCP X, it’s difficult to go back to any other system. Its support for many prosumer camera formats, seamless proxy handling, media and project management make it suitable for a variety of editing tasks even long form documentary.
Among currently available editing systems, FCP X is the one with the least requirements of the system, and even an older MacBook Air can run FCP X with ease.
FCP X is Mac only and has no Windows version.
Conclusion and outlook
The choice of editing software (NLE) for editing a feature, documentary, ad, episodic, web, corporate etc, is wide and varied. And software evolves rapidly, adding features and capabilities. So fast that editors are often left behind and don’t use many new features that have been available for years. Systems to edit off - Windows and Mac - also evolve rapidly and get cheaper at the same time, and what used to to cost millions, now costs tens of thousands. The capabilities of even portable systems of today rivals large desktop systems of just a decade ago.
The lines between editing or what used to be called ‘offline’ editing, and sound mixing, visual effects, colour correction, and ‘online’ editing gets thinner and thinner, and its left to the capabilities of the human more than what the system can do. Today, an exceptionally talented editor who invests time in learning, can edit, colour correct, mix sound, and do visual effects, and can even create a DCP for theatrical release, or upload for online release - all in one small affordable editing system.
Neil B Sadwelkar
My site: www.digitaldada.in
My blog: neilsadwelkar.blogspot.com
Neil Sadwelkar, based in Mumbai spends most of his waking hours working as a consultant on data and workflows for movies and Television and is an occasional editor, teacher and writer. At present, he runs a small Data and Workflow Services company called 'Digital Dada' which is a trusted name in data and workflow for feature names by some of the largest film companies - Yash Raj Films, Dharma Productions, Red Chillies, Excel Entertainment, Bhansali Productions and many others.