How To Cut: Assisting for Reality TV, Part 1 - Project Setup

Download a template of the project we used on The Great Australian Bake Off by clicking this link. Once downloaded drag it into your Avid Projects folder, launch Avid Media Composer and you can begin using the template on your own project!

Reality TV has become a beast in its own right, I can remember when the very first season of Big Brother hit our screens shortly after Peter Weir's The Truman Show became a talking point of “what is reality” in the world of television. Big Brother and Survivor paved the way for the countless shows in the “reality” genre today but with it came a new style of editing.

Before reality became mainstream the editing room only ever saw a multicam shoot for scripted drama or sitcoms of perhaps two or three cameras, as stock was still expensive and tape time consuming to ingest there were limited takes and limited coverage - it was quite manageable as the procedure for editing TV was still closely related to the procedures put in place for cutting feature films.

Coming off The Great Australian Bake Off I can tell you that per episode with a duration of 48 minutes there was roughly 100 hours of vision from 8 cameras shooting continuously over 2 days (per episode). This amount of footage is not completely unfathomable in terms of an assisting standpoint but close to it! Especially when you need to be fully across every frame. How do you even start to grasp the fundamentals of launching a project with that amount of vision? How do you organise it all in the most efficient way? And importantly, how do you get that content to the Editor in the quickest, most effective way that ensures you do not miss any of the drama?

In this blog entry (which is part one of a series of three) I am going to take you through my workflow that I employed with my fellow Assistants on The Great Australian Bake Off. Obviously if you have never worked on a reality TV show this will definitely help you to hit the ground running with a basic understanding of setting up a project for a competition style reality TV show. If you're a seasoned Editor and any have any suggestions or contributions be sure to leave them in the comments below! My approach is obviously not the only way but it is the way that worked for me and the rest of the post crew. This method of project setup is not strictly applied to using Avid Media Composer but can be implemented in any non linear editing system, it is a way of organising a project though some of the features I mention (such as project sharing and bin structures) may be Avid Media Composer specific, though the fundamentalle principals remain universal.

The Great Australian Bake Off is a format based on a BAFTA winning British series The Great British Bake Off and here’s a quick look at it:

Avid Project Setup

The most important part is setting up the project correctly. Amongst the Assistants we discussed what we felt was best and came up with the solution each episode should have its own project since one Editor was assigned to one episode. There would be a Rushes Project thats main function was for ingesting and keeping rushes organised in an easy to track manner. A Generic Project that contained elements which would be shared across episodes for example: graphics, music etc. An Online Project specific to taking the episodes into online.

On launching Avid Media Composer our projects dialogue box looked something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 9.39.01 AM

For our hardware we were running four edit suites for offline, four as Producers workstations and one as an Assistant’s station. Each computer was networked to a storage raid that contained the rushes. Our Avid Projects file was situated on a shared network drive which meant any computer could access and launch the projects at the same time. This dual launching of projects and being able to work simultaneously inside a project with another editor is one of the key features that makes Avid Media Composer the choice of professional post-production houses. I have yet to see another non-linear editing system do this - if you know of one let me know! I am really interested in a truly shared editing experience and would love more details.

The Episode Project

In all we had eight episodes so created eight projects based on the shooting format of 1080p/25FPS. This allowed the Producers and the Editor, as well as the Assistants to easily track footage, sequences etc, on an episode by episode basis.

It was also important within each episode there was a structure which allowed anyone to easily identify the various aspects of the edit. I am a big fan on numbering folders to keep them sorted within a project. Having a number front a folder name will always ensure it is in the same place structurally.

Below is how we chose to structure our episodes project:

Bakeoff Ep 5 Layout 2
Please note, this is a screen shot of the Avid Media Composer project bin/folder structure from the Macintosh Finder level. It is just easier to see but translates exactly as seen above to the software’s console.

01 EDITS was a folder containing another series of folders each named after the Editors. The corresponding Editor could then have their own space in their own folder to have whatever bins they were used to working with while cutting. It also meant it was easier to find a specific Editors work.

02 PRODUCERS was a folder containing another series of folders each named after the Producers. Again, the corresponding Producer could have their own space in their own folder to have whatever bins they were used to working with while prepping the compiles for the Editor.

03 COMPILES contained a series of folders that broke the episode up into its major segments. In the case of The Great Australian Bake Off each episode was defined by three challenges. Within these folders were bins pertaining to various elements of the challenges. Basically these bins then contained sub-sequences from a master grouped sequence of the days shoot.

The Producer could open the compile folder, navigate quickly to the challenge, within the challenge find what segment eg. Post-Bake Interviews, Baking Challenge 1, Food Beauty Shots etc and take a copy of that sequence to their work bin and begin cutting it down for the Editor.

There is no fourth bin for some reason -- we must have skipped over the number four and headed straight to:

05 IMPORTS was simply a folder that contained bins for things imported for use in that episode. Be it something from the Executive Producer or a stock footage shot from a website.

06 EXPORTS was a folder that contained bins for exactly what it sounds, exports. A bin with a finished sequence that was to be played to tape and sent to the network, a bin containing shots to be exported to the promos department etc.

07 ASSIST is a very important bin. This contained folders for each of the Assistants, myself included, a folder called SORTING.

The SORTING folder was where we sorted the rushes for that particular episode. You can see from the picture there is another structure inside this folder. I will go into more detail about how this folder is used and why in my following blog post on this subject How To Cut: Assisting for Reality TV, Part 2 - Autosequence, Multigroup & Compiles.

At the very top was a bin labelled !!! EP05 LATEST CUTS !!!. The reason for the explanation marks is it keeps the bin always directly at the top. In this bin was the most recent version of the sequence for that episode. After the Editor had finished working for the day they would drag the latest sequences into that bin and the old ones would go into a xxx EP05 OLD CUTS xxx bin and, you guessed it! The “xxx” keeps the bin at the bottom. The advantage is anybody, an Editor, an Assistant or a Producer could open the project and instantly see the bin at the top, open it and access the latest cuts of the episode. A very handy and effective way of keeping track of the sequences!

Most editors would take a copy of the sequence from the !!! EP05 LATEST CUTS !!! bin, put it in their own bin in their folder, work on the sequence, reversion it and put it back into the !!! EP05 LATEST CUTS !!! bin at the end of the day and move the old sequence to the xxx EP05 OLD CUTS xxx. Quite often we had multiple Editors jumping into the project to do a tease, or perhaps fix up a segment here of there so although one Editor was assigned to each episode, it was still important to have a folder that the Editor’s could call home in case they came wandering. We used exclamation marks and x’s simply because we had numbered folders, some Editor’s may think it’s a bit messy but when you see a bin with !!! !!! surrounding it you know it is an important bin...

On bin naming convention: there is no convention. One rule I do tend to employ for bins in the IMPORTS or EXPORTS folders is the start them with the date backwards. Today the 23rd of April 2013 so the date backwards would be 130421. I would then follow it by the episode number, segment and what it is.

Eg: 130421-EP05-SEG01-Export_Network

Writing the date backwards keeps things in chronological order in a computer database. Handy trick to know.

On sequence naming convention we would label our sequences as follows: EPISODE-SEGMENT-EDITOR-VERSION

Eg: EP05-SEG01-AC-V1

Every time a new major change was done or another pass the version number would increase. There was essentially one sequence per segment within the episode.

The Rushes Project

To understand the Rushes Project you must first understand how our rushes were delivered, what they were shot on and our workflow.

The crew were on location in Werribee (a small place in Victoria a couple of minutes drive from Melbourne). For post we were situated in Sydney. The shoot was covered with Sony XDCam, the discs went to the Channel 9 offices in Melbourne where the digital rushes were copied over to a hard drive, this hard drive was then sent to us.

Our workflow was going to be DNXHD36 offline cutting with a XDCam HD 50mb online play out to HDCam SR Tape. We went with an offline/online approach because we had up to eight cameras in large multicam groups, with potentially nine workstations accessing the multicam stream at any given moment the DNxHD36 bandwidth allowed for the media playback to be quite seamless while a XDCam HD 50mb stream would stutter and would not be appropriate for editing.

When the rushes project is launched its structure is as follows:

Bakeoff Rushes Layout
Again, notice the folder structure features a number help keep it organised.

The process for ingesting rushes were as follows:

1. Create folder within 01 AMA CONSOLIDATE with the episode number the rushes pertained to and the date. eg EP01_121117

2. In folder EP01_121117 create bins for each disc shot on that date. We had the following naming convention 121117_XDCAM_A_ABO1001_ON whereby it was DATE_FORMAT_CAMERA_CARD_ONLINE.

3. In the bin, link via AMA to the corresponding “disc” on the hard drive and consolidate the rushes to the Online Avid Media Drive.

4. With the rushes now consolidated highlight and transcode them to DNxHD36 to the Offline Avid Media Drive. This generated new transcoded clips in DNxHD36 which we then moved to another bin.

The second folder 02 OFFLINE DNxHD36 was where we put the transcoded rushes. It was set up to mirror the 02 AMA CONSOLIDATE folder. It had folders for per shoot date and bins reflecting each XDCam disc.

We obviously had a different camera running for B-roll of contestant back stories, the approach was the same whereby they had their own folder within the EPISODE_DATE folder (as you can see by C300 which was for the Canon C300) and the process as described above was followed. The same was set for the AUDIO rushes which were coming off from radio microphones.

The idea behind this structure was to enable us to located quickly, within a project, the rushes pertaining to type (online or offline versions) the date, the camera type and finally what card they came from. In all the structure worked quite nicely and I’ll be using it again!

The Generic Project

The Generic Project is established to allow for media and graphics that aren’t considered the “rushes” and are not specific to any one episode. When launching the Generic Project from MEdia Comopser’s starting dialogue box the menu looks like this:

Bakeoff Generic

01.1 GV (General Vision) contains bins for shots that are used as establishers, links or just “general vision”. In this case we had bins that defined the subject of the shots like the Werribee Mansion, the Mansion Grounds, Fauna, Flora, Sunsets, the Clock Tower, Aerials.

Whenever one of the Editor’s were after an establishing shot to begin a segment or required an aerial it was very easy for them to locate it. To make it even easier for the Editor when you opened the bin we had arranged the sorting to be by frame so you could instantly see the image of the clip and increased the thumbnail size by pressing CTRL+L and sorting to fill window.

01.2 TIMELAPSES contained the obvious, time lapses which were generated from a Canon 5D as single shots which we imported as an image sequence.

01.3 TIMECALLS was specific to our show. It was essentially a collection of all shots from the series that featured the hosts calling out the time, “10 minutes to go” “5 minutes to go” so we could pinch audio or shots as needed incase we needed a timecall somewhere.

02 GRAPHICS contained bins that had all imported composites and VFX from the graphic designers for the Editors to drop into the timeline.

03 MUSIC were bins containing the stems of the music composed for the series. We also made it easier by grouping the stems of a specific song together with the full mix on the top layer of the group so if the Editor dropped it into the timeline and wanted a section to only be percussion they could make a splice, right click and select the percussion stem and it would be in time rather than go to the bin, find the percussion stem and lay it in with timing.

There’s also a bin called BEATBOX MUSIC, often we were pulling in production music and BeatBox is a production music company, like Big Bang and Fuzz or Audio Network. We put their music into specific bins so we could track which source they were coming from.

04 SFX for containing any sound effects needed, the bins were set into categories of effects such as whooshes, hits, swells, stings, piano trills etc.

05 SCRIPTS which we didn’t use but was intended to import the scripts of any episodes using Aid’s Script Synch feature.

06 IMPORTS for any miscellaneous imports from various locations like stills from the web, or small videos producers had downloaded for references in various episodes.

07 EXPORTS containing bins for anything that had to be exported from the generics project.

08 SUPERTEASE and 08.2 TEASERS AND TALES, these folders contained bins for the edits of the teases that had to feature before each episode eg. Last week’s recap, this week, next week...

These were in the generic project because a last week this week recap utilised shots and mainly generic vision from cross episodes, it was simpler to keep all the teasers contained in one working folder for quick reference rather than have them spread amongst the episodes edits.

The Online Project

And finally, the last project is the Online Project. I will cover the details for this project in part three How To Cut: Assisting for Reality TV, Part 3 - Preparing for Online.

Please continue onto the second entry How To Cut: Assisting for Reality TV, Part 2 - Autosquence, Multigrouping and Compiles.

Additional Information

Software used: Avid Media Composer

Post was completed at: Two

Articles featuring The Great Australian Bake Off:
Ninemsn -
Daily Telegraph -

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