Book Review: 'Avid Agility'
Issue: December 1, 2010

Book Review: 'Avid Agility'

By Steven Cohen, ACE

Working Faster and More Intuitively with Avid Media Composer 

I haven't met Steven Cohen, but after reading his book, Avid Agility ($36.88), I feel like I have. Cohen was a pioneer in nonlinear editing, cutting the first studio feature to use Avid (Lost in Yonkers). He's taught at the AFI, was publisher of the Editor's Guild magazine and co-founded the Avid Editor's Advisory Committee. And, now, he's published the most ambitious and comprehensive book on Avid Media Composer I've read.  (Avid should include this with every Composer system sold).

This book could have had a number of other titles: “Avid Demystified,” “Avid Revealed,” or “Flying with Avid.” I can promise you one thing… should you get this book, and I highly advise you do if you're a Media Composer editor, rookie or old pro, “Avid Agility” will make you a better editor, guaranteed.

This is much more than a operating manual or how-to — it's like having a seasoned pro sitting next to you, revealing his trade secrets, explaining and enlightening you, all for the cost of a book.

In 236 jam-packed pages, Cohen has managed to take us on a very personalized trip through an admittedly complex and often baffling tool that has had its share of supporters and detractors. He shows us tips and tricks, shortcuts and gotchas, and reveals secrets that explain in concise and colorful prose and illustrations the versatile ways Media Composer can and should be used. He explains it in a straightforward manner that doesn't talk down or overcomplicate understanding. 

Frankly, it's no secret that we editors are often stingy with our secrets and methods... admittedly, it's one of our worst traits, mea culpa. So for Cohen to have opened up decades of know-how and tips and tricks to advance our skill set is fantastic, and it only benefits us to take advantage of the opportunity.

“Avid Agility” is up-to-date with Media Composer 5, and covers just about all new aspects and features. Every page has some new shortcut or feature that you previously may have bypassed or neglected. Editing, speed and keyboard shortcuts can make the difference between you or another editor getting the job or not. With Cohen's vast array of shift, control and command shortcuts, methodology and approach, new levels of speed and versatility can be achieved.

I started learning new things almost immediately about the ins and outs of Media Composer that I didn't know (or ignored) after almost 21 years of cutting on it. The breadth of coverage is huge. From an in-depth look at Media Composer's interface, through the Smart Tool, new approaches of media management, color correction, audio mixing, toolsets and workspaces, to explaining Composer's new complex but powerful advanced keyframing model — his concise explanations detail not only how to use it, but why it beats the old keyframing model.

Cohen uses detailed graphics to show us highlights in the keyboard or user interface that match precisely what he's explaining in text. Rather than just tell us,"This is how it's done," Cohen shows us why he does things the way he does. Much of his methodology is outside the box — bypassing Avid's conventional wisdom.  

For example, Cohen shows us a much more efficient and precise way to consolidate media in order to copy media over from one system to another that works better than Avid's own consolidate function. He explains things that aren't found in Avid's manuals or online help centers — problems and solutions that are garnered from years of his own experience. His customization tips alone are worth the price of the book: things that may seem obvious, but that we've never done, like programming the mouse to enable functions that took multiple keystrokes, or that additional functions can be mapped to the keyboard that aren't listed in the manual or command palette. 

There's no stone left unturned. It's hard to understand how he got so much into this book. There are literally hundreds of tips to be found in these pages.

In great detail Cohen even covers Media Composer's film tools and methodology, giving newbies a primer in pulldown, how Filmscribe works, examining change, optical and cut lists, giving us potential problems to watch out for. 

Cohen's personal philosophy of editing is as much an ingredient of the book as these concise explorations of the editing system. In explaining a wonderful section on how he personally sets up his system (and why), he explains, "The more you can free yourself from thinking about the machine, the more your focus will be on the material you're editing... every time you look down, you slow down."


As I went through the book, I realized the disparity we as editors, have in just how we get educated on the use of our systems. Some of us have the luxury of one-on-one professional editing tutors or classes, others go up through the ranks at facilities or organizations, but so many others are in the boondocks, isolated and far from schools or others who might impart their experience and wisdom. With the cost of the technology now so low and multiplying daily, it's to these isolated and geographically scattered editors that this book might be even more valuable... even though there is so much great info here that even the most experienced pro can benefit.

An unexpected benefit of this book is a new look of Media Composer as the highly developed, complex and innately flexible system it is.

To learn more about Steven Cohen, ACE, visit his Website:

Jonathan Moser is an Emmy-winning New York freelance editor/producer and contributing writer for Post. He can be reached at