These Are The Breaks

I got a call today from a friend who was recapturing footage into her Premiere Pro project that had gone offline. She was capturing from tapes that had timecode breaks, and was trying to figure out why some the clips that she was recapturing didn’t grab the right footage from tape. Oh, the footage was there alright, but it was taking the wrong frames from the wrong part of the tape and what gives?

Well, this is one of those “Wacky Workflow Bloopers” that keep people like me employed (hey, there’s gotta be problems in order to make solutions, no?). Seriously, if you edit video you’ll find yourself in her shoes eventually (if you haven’t already) unless you heed some simple advice. So here’s the situation — as I mentioned, the tapes had timecode breaks, meaning that the timecode had reset to “00;00;00;00” at a certain point (or points) in the tape. This usually happens when a cameraperson rewinds to view a shot and winds up rolling past the last shot frame so that the record head is over blank tape. This causes the camcorder to start the timecode from zero again.

Now here’s why this is a problem — when you capture a clip into Premiere Pro, data such as the tape name and in/out timecode are attached to that clip. This makes it so that if the media (i.e. vlideo and audo that’s on your editing system’s hard drive) goes offline (i.e. is deleted or moved from the drive) you can recapture the media from the original source tapes in a time saving batch process. So, for example, Premiere Pro knows that clip “X” is located on the tape called “Exterior Shots” from timecode 00;03;30;14 to 00;03;45;11. But what if there is more than one place on the tape that has those timecodes due to a timecode break? Well, you have to manually go to each of the instances of that timecode on the tape, and try and figure out which one makes sense based on the context of the name of the clip and where a logical in/out point would be. If you need to do this for a lot of clips, then not only do you have your work cut out for you, but you’re also going to have to do a lot of shuttling back and forth on your tape and that can really wear it out (or even break if if you’re using the notoriously light-gauge Mini DV format).

So, to avoid this scenario (which I experienced myself when editing “Monkey And The Rooster” some years ago) what you should do when capturing footage into Premiere Pro from a tape that has timecode breaks is to give each section of timecode it’s own tape name. For example, you can call the first section “Exterior Shots A”, the Second “Exterior Shots B” and so on — and make a note on the tape label or slip one in the box explaining this as a courtesy to whoever might need to recapture the footage down the line.

By the way, this friend I referred to earlier didn’t want to be mentioned in this blog — I always like to plug talented friends here, but last time I spoke to her she said “I don’t wanna see my name in that freaking blog, I don’t want people Googling me and reading about me and there are certain people that I don’t need to find out where I’m working so just keep me out of it.” That, delivered in a single breath — thus I was instantaneously (and involuntarily) transported back to New York City.