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August 2014
Issue: June 1, 2012

Review: The Avid Assistant Editor’s Handbook

By: Jonathan Moser
BOOK: The Avid Assistant Editor’s Handbook by Kyra Coffie
PRICE: $49
WEBSITE: www.avidassteditor.com

Before I begin this review, a few words about assistant editors — they are the unsung heroes of post.

In the beginning, before nonlinear, generally assistant editors (except those involved in feature work) wore totally different hats than they do now. They loaded and cleaned tape machines, did layoffs for dupes, made copies of finished tapes, checked specs, slated and laid bars and tone, kept things manageable for editors and worked extremely long hours. But they usually didn’t get deep into the editor’s domain. 

Today, they still work long hours, and still clean up after the editors they work with…but now, in the accelerated atmosphere of nonlinear, fast-turnaround and high-volume editing deadlines, they are our eyes, ears, (sometimes our brains) and our first line of defense. They prescreen, prepare and sometimes save us from ourselves.  

In the dark of night, with ranks of producers, executives, changes and deadlines having taken their toll on an editor’s health and psyche, the bond with their AE can be forged in blood. I’ve been there.

A good AE — a truly good AE — is hard to find and worth their weight in gold. They can spell the difference between a good edit and a great edit. Not enough can be said…they are my heroes.

Kyra Coffie is obviously one of those rare and extraordinary individuals, she is the AE’s AE, and her new book is a painstakingly thorough, researched and exhaustive guide to how to achieve that valued stature of an editor’s closest ally. 

I have never seen a more detailed explanation of the AE’s duties.



A COMPREHENSIVE LOOK

Profusely and intelligently illustrated with explanatory, full-color diagrams, Coffie follows the entire process of editing, going deep into areas not even many seasoned editors have ventured.

Running the gamut from capturing media to exporting, layout and slating to final outputting, with everything in between.

Coffie’s methodology is intelligent and comprehensive, sometimes humorous. Having been an AE for over a decade, she knows what problem areas require elaboration, and in her thoughtful explanations throughout she provides a Did I Do This Correctly? section that painstakingly allows the reader to double check their work by asking concise questions (like a pilot’s checklist) — details that some seasoned editors can miss even after decades of experience. Her manner is warm and reassuring, and you feel her experience and knowledge. She doesn’t just say how to do things, but why they have to be done that way, firmly guiding you along the way.

Almost everything comprising Media Composer is methodically explained and demoed — from AMA to ingest to outputting, effects layering, and treating audio and video for export. Even the darker arts of transcoding, consolidating, managing the EDL manager, the dreaded Title Tool and it’s style guides are covered. There’s little that is not touched. It’s all done in a systematic, well-explained and logical manner, wholly designed to make the editor’s life easier and the job of show-building more efficient. 

Coffie knows the relationship between the AE and their editor, and her vast experience is evident throughout as she explains why things must be done in certain orderly manners.

MAKING SENSE OUT OF CHAOS

As I read through the book, I understood more about why things are done the way they are on the Media Composer. (Many older editors, like myself, came through the ranks from linear to nonlinear without the studied discipline  those who started out on nonlinear did. We had to apply old understandings of tape-based to a new world, and a certain lack of organization came along with us.) 

Coffie’s methodology and conciseness allowed me to make sense of areas not fully understood as she explains why she does what she does.

One note — if you get this book, (and I wholeheartedly encourage both AE and editor alike to do so), save Coffie’s detailed explanation of multigrouping for last. It is intense and detailed (80 pages worth) and could discourage you in its length and thoroughness. Go through the rest of the book first and come back. With a detailed index, concise appendixes outlining useful exercises for skill building and myriad vital checklists, her comprehensiveness is clearly evident.

This is not a mindless instruction manual — this is a working assistant editor’s bible, built from experience and success. It will educate you, it will demystify a daunting subject, and it will allow you to become a valued asset, as important and marketable as the best editor. 

WHAT DID I MISS?

If there was anything lacking in this book that I had hoped to find, it was in the all-important subject of how to truly organize a project from start to finish, implement a logical bin structure and methodology. With the massive amounts of material we routinely run into today, the AE’s skill at creating a systematically organized, logical and understandable project tree is essential — breaking down through a clear visual schematic all the material we need: interviews, b-roll, sound, iso’s, OTFS, beauty, etc. 

To be sure, Coffie’s excellent breakdown of multigrouping was extraordinary and concise, and I am sure she organizes projects with the same precision and finesse, but I did miss her tips at how she organizes what we, the editor, must look at every day — our workspace. 

Another area to address (where perhaps she can use her excellent Website and blog: www.AvidAsstEditor.com) is setting up ScriptSync sessions — importing and preparing script, a powerful tool for Media Composer. 
Regardless of the bits that are missing, you won’t find a better resource for assistant editing on the Media Composer. I just hope I can work with her someday.

Jonathan Moser is a Freelance Editor at Flashcut Productions in New York. He can be reached at: flashcutter@yahoo.com.