Conferences of different shapes and sizes take place at various times throughout the year, but the Premiere Pro World Conference is set to be very different. Taking place this July, the three-day training conference brings together world-renowned industry experts, the Adobe Premiere Pro team and the professional editing community to interact, collaborate and learn from each other.
One of those industry experts is Richard Harrington, who is no stranger to ProVideo Coalition. A certified instructor for Adobe, Apple and Avid, Rich is a practiced expert in motion graphic design and digital video. Rich is leading various tracks at the event such as Mastering Dynamic and Direct Link Workflows and Working with Open & Closed Captions, just to name a couple.
We talked with Rich about the some of the things he’s seen and experienced throughout his career, the NLE options that editors are currently facing and what attendees of the conference can expect to learn about and discover at Adobe’s headquarters in San Jose this July.
ProVideo Coalition: You always seem to be involved with multiple projects simultaneously. What are you working on right now? And how do you keep track of everything?
Richard Harrington: I have a visual communications company called RHED Pixel and we’ve got a really great team. At RHED Pixel we produce materials for nonprofits as well as educational materials for different organizations and associations. I also create a lot of training materials based on the type of stuff we’re doing professionally or the things that are of interest to me. And on top of that I do a bit of consulting work for major TV and movie networks. All of it keeps me busy.
Having a master’s degree in project management and knowing how to work with good people and keep them around me allows me to get a lot done. When you go into a three-year degree on how to plan it kind of affects the rest of your life. Also, I’ve made an effort to remove modern distractions that affect most people by doing crazy things like telling someone to call me when it’s important or having a single conversation that would otherwise take up 10 emails. By no means am I able to work on as many things as I do without the people I work with, but one of the reasons I’m involved with so many things is that I want good information to be out there.
When I started my career I was working at a TV station and they never even let me touch the Avid. I eventually got a job where they did let me touch the Avid, but the requirement was that I had to read a 1,700-page manual and go through a 12-week course. That actually served me well because when I became an Avid certified instructor I was probably the only person who had read that whole thing. I’m definitely a believer in RTFM. Still, I understand that most people have no desire to dig in that far, so I want to help folks have fun again and enjoy what they’re learning. It’s exciting to see what people can create these days with the amount of tools that are now available.
That’s a good segue, because the availability of those tools has clearly impacted productions at every level. How have you seen the price and availability of these things impact professionals?
When I started my company the number of people that had non-linear editing systems was really small, so it was easier to get the rates because equipment was scare. There were only so many places to go because only one or two companies had an Avid. Only one or two companies had these capabilities. Now though, the software that’s on my kid’s school computer is more powerful than what I used when I started my professional editing career.
The technology barriers have been removed which means the competitive barriers have been increased. I don’t see that as a bad thing: it just means that having stuff or buying gear isn’t the solution to having a competitive advantage. If you focus on doing something you enjoy as well as something you’re good at, you’ll have customers going, “They are really good at what they do.” Those people do well and ultimately that has very little to do with the specific tools they use.
Do you think it's necessary for people to do a little bit of everything these days? Or will specialization always reign supreme?
It really depends. The first thing I’d say is that you need to focus on what makes you happy, meaning that you have to be doing something you’re passionate about and that you enjoy – because our industry is getting tougher and tougher. Budgets are getting tighter and tighter and more people are trying to get the same job, so getting that competitive advantage is tougher and more important that ever.
For some people that means specialization. For people like me, I enjoy lots of things and if I do one thing too much it drives me nuts. That said, I think having multiple skillsets is essential, and even in my own company we cross-train. We take editors out into the field on shoots they’re going to edit. Maybe they’re logging the tape or they’re logging the footage, or they’re shooting photos or they’re serving as the continuity supervisor, but all of it translates into a better edit once they’re behind the computer. On the other side of that, a lot of our productions folks have to process or do basic editing. I find the more you understand about the whole process the better you are at being part of that process. It can also make it easier for you to get work.
If you’re a colorist but you do enough shooting on your own that you can appreciate the cameras, you can speak the language of the DP when he comes in. And that’s something a DP is going to remember. If you’re an audio person and you’re mixing in a vacuum and you don’t understand that compromises sometimes have to be made, then you’re just going to piss your client off. The reality is most people in the production chain are doing the best they can, and the more people who understand that, the better off you are wherever you fall in that.
Regardless of your focus, there’s a bottom line that you have to always keep in mind. Even after owning my company for 15 years, if everyone in the office is slammed and I have some time, I’ll be the one who goes out to pick up lunch. If it’s a Sunday night and the fire-alarm goes off, my business partner and I are flipping a coin to see who goes in. When I’m traveling with people from my office, I’m carrying just as much gear as everyone else. We’re in a business where half of what we do is hard labor and the other half is mental, and that’s true regardless of the title or job.
What's a recent industry trend or development that's really surprised you?
We’ve seen an invigoration of “cheap” cameras, and that’s changed the mentality of people at various levels of a production. Let me explain what I mean by that.
Until a few years ago, things had really stabilized on the camera side. We were down to two or three major formats that were being used a lot. But with the cameras that GoPro and Blackmagic have released, all of that is out the window. At the moment, we’re doing a production for a major clothing company that’s a 14 week time-lapse, and the whole thing is being shot on GoPro. I’m doing some interesting things with GoPro for some other projects as well. We’ve done some action spots using aerial copters and time lapses are booming like crazy. It’s gotten everyone to think about their project in a totally new way.
What we’re seeing is that in many ways the concept of frame rates, footage and acquisition have been turned on their head and we have more flexibility than ever before. Now we can really condense time, speed up time and put cameras in unusual places because we’re not worried about them being destroyed. We’re attaching cameras to bulldozers and hanging them 15 feet in the air. I can take everything I need for a three camera shoot in an international carry-on and produce something that looks amazing. Creativity has fewer boundaries because we’re seeing so much flexibility when it comes to production and cinematography.
This affects everyone though, and for the editor this means communication is more important than ever. “Did you mean for this to be LOG?” “Did you intended to have this at that frame rate?” “Why is this at 60 and this is at 29?” are just a few of the questions that editors need to be asking. There are so many more options, and it’s one of the reasons I was drawn to Premiere Pro, because transcoding sucks. Previously, it was a necessary evil because computers weren’t that fast, but now that they can handle just about anything I try to avoid transcoding until final delivery. I encounter professionals all the time who are working in workflows that aren’t taking advantage of these opportunities, and that’s surprising for various reasons.
Here’s a great example. Everybody was taught in school “don’t use time-of-day timecode, it’s awful.” The reason it was awful was because the footage was digitized in the machine and there were timecode breaks, which would screw up the Avid. Now though, the best thing you can do is to shoot time-of-day timecode because it’s the easiest to get on all devices. When you use tools like Adobe Live Logger, everybody, including the client, can be on-set capturing information during the shoot and it all synchs up in your timeline. But people stick with what they were told. They can’t tell you why they can’t use time-of-day timecode, they just know it’s bad. Most of them don’t realize I can play back five streams of DSLR off of a $100 drive I got at Best Buy with USB 3 on a laptop with zero issues. So why should I waste time transcoding?
Going back to your earlier question, the technology isn’t nearly as expensive as it used to be, so indie filmmakers don’t need to take out a loan or beg and borrow to get their hands on what they need to tell their story. I’m getting ready to start a documentary and I’m able to work on it when I can. So I guess I’m equally surprised by how many new and different opportunities are now available and by how many people don’t realize it.
You're going to be a presenter at the Premiere Pro World Conference coming up in San Jose this July. What can you tell us about the event?
It’s the first time that Adobe has been officially involved, so it’s pretty amazing. One of the days is presented by Adobe so attendees will be having intimate conversations with the Adobe product team and what that team wants to share. Last year we did this with the After Effects team and they actually made the room sign an NDA because they revealed such fantastic and innovative stuff that wasn’t ready for the public. They were bouncing ideas and concepts off everyone and just saying, “What do you think?” Then we sat down in small groups with engineers and product designers and they were asking for feedback. It was a direct pipeline to shape the tool.
So it’s a very personal event. It’s certainly not tiny, but you and around 200 people who are into the same thing are staying at the same hotel and meeting with your peers and with the creators, which allows attendees to have an all-encompassing experience.
And then of course you’ve got fantastic training. We’ve put together a really good collection of people who are doing practical hands-on work. They’re going to be able to give you incredible insights. Of course there’s all kinds of training available online and at other conferences, and Future Media Concepts, who organized this, do put on great training events. But hands down, this is the most comprehensive event about Premiere Pro – ever. So many people now find themselves on Premiere so for anyone who’s just getting involved or wants to learn more about the product, it’s more important than ever to take advantage of these opportunities.
What sort of professional will get the most out of the event?
No matter what your experience level is, you’ll be able to find something of interest at the event, but it definitely favors people who are experienced editors. You could be relatively new to Premiere Pro and still drop into a session and learn in a way that makes sense. But for people who are deep divers, there’s nowhere else you can go to find the top engineers and consultants who are there to answer questions and share everything they know.
My take on what’s happened in the industry is that after FCPX, a large number of people who were on Apple went to Adobe. I’ve seen this time and time again, because it was a relatively easy move to make. But because the tools aren’t exactly the same, there are things that they’re not doing quite right or not as efficient. So we’re going to be focused on helping those editors familiarize themselves with Premiere but also willing and able to dig as deep as we can.
Jeff Greenberg, Christine Steele, Gary Adock and Kanen Flowers are just a few of the big names that are involved with the event. How do you think their skill-sets and experience will translate to and for attendees?
What’s exciting about the conference is that it’s a great collection of folks. There are a lot of presenters who were very active in the Apple and Avid community who are now using Premiere Pro as their primary platform. But we’ve also got some of the longtime Premiere voices who have been using this tool forever.
I’m personally excited about the sessions where we’re set to have two or three gurus simply answering your questions. It’s going to be a great thing, because at conferences people will come up before or after a track with some questions, but it can be difficult to focus on those specifics with so much going on. These Q&A sessions allow you to have those questions answered, and even I like sitting in on them because the best things that you can learn are the most unusual. Someone else’s problem can spark an idea in you. A problem you’ve never encountered won’t be a problem for you now. People will be able to get their most difficult problems addressed.
What sort of questions are you expecting to get during your Open Questions: Workflow session?
Premiere has some of the most complex audio features of any NLE. They’re really good, and once you understand them it’s great, but you have far more choices than you do on any other NLE. That includes track pipes, and whether or not you want to apply effects to the entire track versus the clip level. It’s the same thing with video now. There are master effects, so let’s say you have some interview footage that you’re working on. Using those master effects, you can affect all instances of that interview. If you know that interview is a bit overexposed or hot, you can adjust the master clip and synch it to all the clips from the same interview and never touch anything in your timeline. Those are the sorts of details that folks often want to talk through.
Also, people are always shocked to hear how easy it is to integrate with Photoshop and After Effects. I always have people coming up to me and asking,“Do I have to create a Photoshop file and then…” Nope.
File>New Photoshop File
Boom. Premiere makes a Photoshop file that matches your sequence. You name it, it launches Photoshop, you type everything, you hit save and then it’s in your project. You don’t even need to know what settings to pick. Photoshop sees the sequence settings and matches it. You make a change in Photoshop and the text will update in Premiere. And it’s the same thing with After Effects. There’s just an incredible integration between the products.
For awhile, Apple was trying to go there with their tools and to a certain extent they left that in with Compressor and FCPX, which I think is a great integration. After Effects and Premiere already had a lot of that integration, but there was never much integration beyond that. Adobe has really stepped up in that regard. It’s awesome how easy it is to use all these apps, but it’s also kind of intimidating. And that intimidation factor leads to relevant questions.
Do you ever need to talk through the mindset or approach that an editor can and should take when they’re working on Premiere, or any NLE for that matter?
One of the things I often have to emphasize with editors is that they don’t need to understand everything. The thing is, we have a 50-tool Swiss Army knife with Premiere, and guys want to know all 10 ways they can utilize every single blade that comes with it. “I see I have a penny nail puller tool. But I don’t use penny nails. So how should I use that?” Well, you don’t. Don’t take it out. Just ignore it. Editors sometimes have this completist mindset and seem to want to understand it all. Unfortunately, all they end up doing is putting too much pressure on themselves instead of focusing on what they need to get their job done. You can always go back and learn the additional tools and capabilities once you’ve mastered what you need to get your work done.
That’s why I believe in this longer-term training. It’s why I love live events like this. Depending on your budget, you should try to do two or three of these a year. And with conferences like these you don’t even need to know what you’re looking for going into it. You can go to a conference like this and just check out which tracks or sessions are the most relevant. You know there will be an expert who can lay out a roadmap that will help improve things.
Beyond the educational topics that will be presented, what do you expect an attendee will be able to take away from the event?
It’s a great business networking event. At the After Effects conference, attendees were able to meet in person for the first time, explore opportunities and make professional connections. It wasn’t a total schmooze fest because much of this is on a peer-to-peer level, but it opens up opportunities you wouldn’t have ever known about otherwise. There’s a fun aspect to it as well since we’ll have plenty of after hour sessions and chances to get together, plus being able to spend some time in San Jose and/or San Francisco is always great.
For me though, a big part of this is the presence that Adobe showcases. A major ingredient for me running my business is making sure I understand the tools I use, but even more important is having a relationship with the company that makes those tools. I want to feel like I can trust that company and where they’re going. It’s not like I want to be involved with or know everything, but Adobe is a fairly transparent company and they’ve been very consistent about delivering value to their customers. I like knowing the tool and being able to put faces to the names I see online and in forums. When I have an idea for a feature or I feel I need something, it’s great to be able to reach out to the people that you meet and talk with at this conference.
One of the things they do is they actually explain how new features are added. They talk about how they do customer visits and how you can participate in a beta to give feedback. Attendees are going to create and cultivate that type of relationship by being able to get to meet the people that create the tools that drive their business. It goes back to the old concept of if you knew who your suppliers were, then you felt more confident about your business. To me, understanding the tools as well as the company that makes them is incredibly valuable and necessary.
Adobe’s commitment to Premiere is evident with their participation in events like this, but the conversation around NLE’s usually comes down to the big three (Apple, Avid and Adobe). Do you think events like this will help Adobe separate itself from Apple and Avid?
I’ve used all three of those tools. I’ve built my career on them. I started on Avid and knew it and loved it. I worked on it for years. I was a certified Avid instructor. But when it was time to start my own business, it would have been an $85,000 investment to still use Avid. I was looking at having to take a second mortgage on my house to get an Avid – or I could go with Final Cut Pro. For about $7,000 total I could get something that worked well enough, and that’s what I did. It allowed me to go from having to work for someone else to it being feasible for me to setup my own shop and start to do work directly for clients and land my own clients. And I was indebted to Apple for that.
The thing is, Apple is clearly moving into a space of premium consumer products and products that help people be more creative. They have no shortage of money so they could be as great as they want to be, but I don’t fully trust them after the FCPX release. On the day FCPX dropped, every single software download support took you to the Mac App store to download FCPX. There was no transition plan, no communication to professionals. There was such secrecy around FCPX, and that meant it took months and even years before partnerships could materialize and work. I can’t run a business like that. I need to know the company is going to be around, and that when they say they’re going to work with a technology partner, it works.
I totally understand why they did FCPX. It makes absolute sense. The thing sells really well. There are a bunch of people that need video editing in the way that Apple is doing it. The thing is, it’s a solid product, it works really well for lots of people and they seem to be taking it seriously. But, like many things Apple as I look at their operating systems and things like the iPad, it becomes more and more restrictive and formulaic in many ways. If you start needing features that are standard to a pro workflow, they become add-ons. Why do I have to buy a $4,000 Breakout Box if I want to put in expansion cards? Did I ask for a slimmer form factor? Why is the battery on my laptop connected to my motherboard and glued to my keyboard,? That means I have to replace the keyboard and the battery, which forces me to deal with the backlog at the Apple store. “But don’t you want that slimmer form factor by 2mm?” No, I’d rather be able to service my own machine and drop in some memory. So it can be incredibly frustrating.
Avid’s financial insecurities and constant fluctuation and inability to generate accurate reports with the SEC deeply concern me as well. They also have a history of making some questionable business decisions, so the whole thing just doesn’t give me much confidence.
Those sorts of concerns and issues just aren’t there with Adobe and with Premiere. Adobe always has support for the latest everything. Seven months before my Mac OS would support a digital file off of a DSLR Adobe has support for it. It took Apple six months to support the 5D Mark 3, and by that point Adobe already had an update out. So I see it as a matter of priorities for all three companies, and I like where Adobe has their priorities.
With that disparity in terms of focus and product, it almost feels like they all might end up consciously or unconsciously appealing to different verticals. So rather than one company emerging from those three, instead we might soon be talking about the “big five”? Or more?
Editors don’t like change. The fact that some professionals and shops went from FCP to Avid and are now moving to Premiere doesn’t sit well with many of them. I often get brought into TV networks to help folks who are in the middle of that transition. Some of them are optimistic and embrace it, but many others just don’t like change. So telling someone that they also need edit in DaVinci Resolve and build a whole platform around it is a tall order.
I don’t make a living telling you what tools to use. If you want to know why I put my company on Adobe, it’s because I trust them to be around, because they don’t hide things and they’ve been consistent in delivering support.
Somebody recently explained to me why they loved Lightworks so much, and I said that was great. If it works for you, it works for you. I do my HDR workflow in Phonomatic and my time-lapse workflow in After Effects. That’s how I prefer to do things. If you want to use another tool, I’m not going to argue with you about it. I’m fully transparent so I’ll share my workflow and show you all the things that make it work for me. And if you can build on that or it compels you to do something different, great. That means it’s going to be easier for you to produce something amazing, and to me that’s all that really matters.