True stories: helping Filmbase to make the final cut

20 Oct 2003

Located adjacent to the Irish Film Centre in Dublin’s Temple Bar, Filmbase, the resource centre for low-budget independent filmmakers, has been in existence for 17 years. “We are here to support people starting off in the film industry, giving them training and giving them the opportunity to rent equipment at a reasonable rate; equipment they could not afford to hire otherwise unless they had a production company attached to them,” explains Barbara Henkes (pictured), Filmbase’s facilities manager.

Funded by a combination of membership fees – it currently has approximately 800 members who pay between €45 and €55 depending on circumstances – and a grant from The Arts Council.

As part of its mission, Filmbase offers editing services using a number of editing suites including Final Cut Pro. But more importantly, Filmbase employs Vicki Parks, who recently became the only certified Final Cut Pro trainer in Ireland. She trains filmmakers in the use of the software so that they can edit their own projects.

“Final Cut Pro runs on a fast, good quality Macintosh,” says Henkes. “It basically allows people to cut their films to broadcast standard without having to rent a more commercial suite such as Avid or Lightworks. They can come in, rent the suite, take a training course and they are ready to go. Some people aren’t good editors but they can try and play around with the package. That’s not really possible with other suites.

“It’s very good,” says Henkes. “It allows you to do a complete professional job ready for broadcast. It is online and it has great effects. It supports a lot of third-party effects packages such as Adobe After Effects. And the new Version 4 comes with software called Symphony in which you can compose your soundtrack. You can also do 3D-titling graphics.”

However, all of this power comes with a downside. According to Henkes, filmmakers can get lulled into thinking that because they can operate the software they become an editor. “There is a reason for having editors, composers, sound artists and graphics artists,” she says. “I find people forget that and they think that by just having the software available they can come in, cut their film and it’s a masterpiece. I’ve found myself in the position of having to finish off projects because people underestimated the effort involved.”

Final Cut Pro is a fully online digital editing suite. Other suites such as Avid are classified as ‘offline’ as they use low-resolution video captured from shooting tapes to allow editors to visualise the final result. These suites then generate an editing decisions list (EDL), which contains the time codes where the cuts are to be made. The editor then takes the EDL and the original shooting tapes to an online editor that uses the EDL to copy the relevant parts of the shooting tapes onto a finished tape in the correct order.

With Final Cut Pro, the original high-resolution digital video (DV) is copied onto the Mac via the Firewire port. The editor then visualises the final result and when completed copies the resulting digital video from the Mac to a new tape again via the Firewire port.

“There is an offline option with Final Cut Pro,” Henkes points out. “A lot of times people still come in and use it as an offline suite. They go in with high quality from the DV, cut the film and then go somewhere for an online cut. Because it’s such a new system, people are still getting used to it. It’s a lack of experience.” Henkes hopes that through the courses the organisation runs filmmakers will become more familiar with the applications capabilities.

Filmbase runs courses once or twice a month. At the moment, the organisation owns a Power Macintosh G4 dual processor and a Powerbook laptop. Courses are limited to four students, two per computer. However, two additional Power Macintosh G5s are on order. When they arrive each student will have their own machine.

An introduction to Final Cut Pro lasts about three days. “People can get the hang of it very soon,” says Henkes. “It is very user-friendly. There are a few things you really have to watch out for but once you are aware of them you are ready to go. The more complex things such as sound and graphics will take longer.”

When not used for training filmmakers, the software is put to good use. Filmmakers who are members of Filmbase can rent the suite per hour at a very advantageous rate. The organisation will also put filmmakers in contact with professional editors. In the past the winners of TG4’s Lasair Awards were edited at Filmbase on Final Cut Pro. Director Pat Murphy will shortly be using it to edit his latest documentary for the National Training and Development Institute and Stephen Kane will edit Starfish, his micro-budget feature funded by the Irish Film Board, using this software.

By David Stewart