Software nod amounts to unprecedented endorsement

In an announcement that combines kudos to one company, a jab at another and a warning flare for producers, the American Cinema Editors board of directors is honoring Avid’s Media Composer software with the org’s first-ever ACE Technical Excellence Award.

The nod amounts to an unprecedented endorsement of a commercial product by ACE, which is coming down squarely on the side of one entry in the editing systems competish.

The award won’t be presented until the ACE Eddies ceremony in February, but the org is releasing the news now because it wants those messages to be understood.

ACE is voicing both appreciation for its close relations with Avid and frustration with what it perceives as snubs from Apple, maker of Final Cut Pro, Avid’s biggest rival.

The subtext of the kudo announcement is also a message to producers: ACE’s members are frustrated about not having a choice of which tools they use, and they don’t like being forced to use alternatives to Avid.

All this is coming at a time when ACE editors are feeling restive over job security in the wake of the production slowdown and changes in TV patterns and orders.

Harry B. Miller III, an ACE board member and head of the org’s technology committee, said Avid “has always had the superior product” among editing software packages, but recently the company has also gone out of its way to solicit feedback from editors and shape the product to their needs.

Apple, by contrast, has been slow to improve Final Cut Pro. Miller said, “Apple and Final Cut Pro doesn’t listen, doesn’t respond, doesn’t solicit our opinion.”

Avid has also been a sponsor of ACE events, while Apple has not. “We’ve talked to them about sponsorships but nothing has come about,” ACE prexy Randy Roberts said.

ACE might not feel it has to proclaim its choice if its members were more involved in the choice of their tools. Fewer than half of all editors are even consulted about what editing system they will use, according to an ACE survey, even though editors have a particularly intimate relationship with their system. As Miller said, “The editing system really is an extension of us.

“When a television show or movie goes into pre-production,” Miller said, “they do camera tests to see what are the best cameras, they may do lighting tests, they do makeup tests. I’ve never been asked, ‘What’s the best editing system for this show?’ I come in after those decisions have been made. It’s so frustrating.”

Roberts said ACE surveys show the majority of its members prefer Avid. He conceded editors have not traditionally been consulted on the choice of tools, “but in the past, there were fewer tools to pick. You edited on a Moviola and that was it.”

Irene Burns, who has been post-production producer on NBC’s “30 Rock” and now on “The Philanthropist,” is a loyal Avid customer, but she doesn’t always give editors what they ask for.

“The decision can’t be made at the editor’s level,” she said, “because it needs to be made by someone who’s responsible for costs.”

In her case, that meant saying no to editors who asked to work in high-def, which had been “cost-prohibitive in the past,” though the studio is looking at that option again.

The overall production slowdown and shifts in TV scheduling have also made ACE editors nervous about their job prospects. “It’s hard enough to find consistent work as it is,” said Miller, “and when a major network takes out five hours of primetime programming, we’re all looking at each other wondering who’s not going to be working the next six months.”

Roberts also pointed to the upheaval in production schedules and the demise of the fall TV season.

“The show with the 22-episode pickup has become a rarity. People shoot six shows and that’s it. Cable will shoot 16 shows and then ask editors to take a year off. So there’s constantly editors looking for work, instead of a big rush in July.”

That’s led to some resentment among editors toward the WGA and SAG, and by extension, their members, over the recent production slowdown.

One reason editors aren’t more sympathetic toward the writers and actors is that ACE editors aren’t seeing their rates eroded by new media and aren’t directly affected by changes in residuals.

Roberts said, “We’re controlled by a union that’s part of the IA. All of the residuals go back into the health and welfare plan. There are a large number of editors who didn’t realize we get residuals.”

The bigger issue arises when editors take non-union work, especially reality TV.

Non-union editing work has long been plentiful in Hollywood, but if you work non-union, Roberts said, “all of a sudden you find out you don’t have health insurance anymore. Keeping health insurance is just as important as paying the mortgage as we get older.”

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