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Screening Dailies

Sadly, all too few projects screen dailies with the crew anymore. There is a great deal of value in screening dailies—the director can give immediate feedback to the editor on takes; the director of photography and production designer can see how their work is translating to the film; and everyone gets to talk with each other, which tends to help communication.

Unfortunately, the group screenings happen infrequently these days. Instead, you will spend much of the rest of your day creating DVDs for everyone to take home.

Creating Viewable DVDs

On a higher-budget film, the assistant is not likely to create the DVDs for the producers, director, studio executives, and others. Instead, you will do a playout to tape, or create one DVD. All the necessary DVDs will be generated from that copy—along with the appropriate visual watermarking that allows the studio to trace the footage if it ends up on the Internet.

On a low-budget film, however, far fewer DVDs are necessary, and you will often be responsible for creating them. The typical process for creating DVDs involves exporting a QuickTime movie from your dailies sequence and then dragging that movie into iDVD, DVD Studio Pro, Sonic, or some other DVD creation program. To make the footage fit on the DVD, you may need to compress the file using a program such as Compressor or Sorenson Squeeze.

Ask the production office for a list of how many DVDs to create and where to deliver them. Be sure to factor enough time into your day to create the DVDs along with appropriate labeling.

For most documentaries, a transcription service needs a DVD of the dailies as well. These services precisely transcribe all the interviews and spoken words in the dailies; editors and producers find the transcription essential to preparing for the editing process.

Attending the Screening

Later that day the editorial crew and much of the production crew will march into a screening room to watch the first day's dailies. You, however, need to arrive 10 or 15 minutes before the scheduled time to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

There are many ways to screen dailies. Some productions screen directly from the NLE, so you will need to bring a hard drive with that day's dailies to the screening room. Other productions output the dailies sequence to a videotape of some kind. Still others screen the QuickTime movie from a DVD or server.

Seating preferences at the dailies vary from film to film. I've worked on movies where the director opens the dailies to anyone who wants to come, and I've worked on some where the attendance is very restricted. Some directors prefer that everyone sit in the same places every day; some don't really give a hoot. The most important thing for you, as the assistant, is to be near the sound level controls (if you're going to be working them), the intercom, and the projectionist so you can relay the seemingly endless stream of instructions up to him or her.

Some directors like the assistant or the editor to call out the number of prints of each setup as they are screened (for example, "Scene ten master, two takes"). Ask the editor what the director will want.

Once everyone arrives and the doors close, someone (guess who?) will signal the projectionist to begin. Every person in the room will look at the film for his or her own reasons. The camera crew watches to be sure the film was shot and printed correctly. The sound crew listens for sound problems. Costume and makeup people look for problems such as messed up hair or a poorly folded handkerchief. In fact, the only people who look at the film as a whole are the three people whose jobs depend on it—the director, the producer, and the editor.

This puts you in a very interesting spot. For one thing, you need to notice all the things that the other people are noticing individually. It is important that the star's handkerchief matches from shot to shot. It is also important to remember which shots have lousy sound or focus problems. (These issues are usually difficult to see on the editing machine and, if you will be cutting on a digital editing system, they will be impossible to see.) It is also important to note which shots have the best performances, and which are the most consistent with each other.

All these things are important to the editing of the film and the editor should be taking careful note of all of them. Yet, very often, it is the assistant that ends up taking notes on technical problems and the like so they can be recorded on all the paperwork. You will often need to pass along comments to the lab or telecine house for the editor. There's also a good chance that, at some point during the editing, the editor will turn to you and say something like, "Remember the shot that had the bump in the middle of the dolly?" To find it, it helps if you take your own notes during dailies screenings. And since you'll never write it down if you don't notice it first, pay attention at dailies.

While you take notes, the editor will take notes on the editor's dailies notes worksheets you created. The editor is likely seated next to the director, who offers feedback on what he likes best—and least. Some directors prefer to be there when the editor does the first cut, but the usual practice is for the editor to cut day by day as the crew shoots. Adam's notes on likes and dislikes—and why—is very helpful to Wendy as she cuts the footage.

When the screening is over, collect all the paperwork and tapes (or other media) and take it back to the editing room. Your footage is too important to risk being misplaced by screening room personnel who may not really care about your troubles (they probably have more films coming in after yours anyway). Unless you feel 100 percent sure that the dailies will return to you safely, always return it to the editing room yourself.

At this point, Adam and Wendy head to the production office to discuss the footage or the next day's coverage (and, presumably, a dozen other department heads, all of whom need to know some crucial information in order to plan for the future). You and any assistants you have bring the material back to the editing room and get it ready for the editor's needs the next day.

One final word about dailies screenings. Many production managers, in their desire to be thrifty, think that banning editorial assistants and apprentices from dailies during evening overtime hours is a good way to save money. The truth, however, is exactly the opposite. The more you and your assistants know the film, the more help you will be to the editor in the editing room. In the long run, this saves a lot of time and money. There is no better way to examine the film than to see it on a large screen. In addition, there is the human side of things. You will work with these people for months, maybe even a year or more. There is no faster way to alienate people than to ban them from the screening of a project they are working on. Besides, if your assistant comes, that person can help you get all the film back to the cutting room after the screening.

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