Updated: Feb 22
You’ve done it! Banged your head against the wall, wept, sweat and bled to get that most incredible creative edit done. And the client chose your cut over those other guys! You have defied all odds and emerged victorious. Congrats!
Now, here comes the fun part: Post production’s equivalent to walking the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere: The final mix, where you get to see your amazing edit buffed and polished to a pristine lacquer. You export your edit and send it out, but then here comes the dreaded email from the post house:
“Can’t open the AAF!
“Do you have this dialogue any cleaner?”
“Can you pick me up some In N Out on the way to the session?”
Geez, these mixers are awful picky, huh!? The bottom line is that getting your edit to mix properly has got to be easier than all that, right? With the right practices in place, it can be.
In this four part series, we’re going to explore the very best ways to set yourself up for success so that the mixer isn’t showing up at your door with a baseball bat.
Man, these mixers are intense.
In this first article of the series, we’ll outline the best way to setup your project and timeline. In the next article, we’ll learn how important it is to fight for good audio sources. Third, we’ll explore best practices for great organization and finally, we will go over what’s involved with exporting proper files so that your mixer has nothing to complain about (ok let’s face it, they’ll probably find something). Let's get started!
The Timeline Setup (FS2T):
Just like that unfinished screenplay that’s been taking up space on your hard drive, it all starts with: the setup. Let’s setup for success with a little thing I like to call FS2T. It sounds like a K-pop band, but it’s actually: Frame rate, sample rate, 2 pop, timecode.
Your timeline in your NLE (which can also be referred to as a sequence) should be setup at the frame rate of the content you are working on. For narrative broadcast/streaming and some films, this is usually going to be 23.98p. For films going theatrical this will most likely be 24p. For reality TV, sports or news, etc. you’re probably going to be in 29.97i or 59.94p. And for YouTube - who the hell knows! It’s the wild west over there!
The bottom line is that your sequence frame rate should match the main frame rate of the content you are working on. And it’s always good practice to double check, because it’s gotten all of us at one point or another.
Just as important as your frame rate is your timeline sample rate, and the most common standard for post work is 48kHz. You need to make sure you set that up in your timeline as well. In Premiere Pro, it can be found under Sequence Settings > Audio > Sample Rate. Set it to 48000 Hz.
In Media Composer, it’s under Settings > Project > Audio Project > Audio Project Settings:
And in DaVinci Resolve, it's under Project Settings > Fairlight > Timeline Sample Rate:
2 pop (Ya Don't Stop):
We’ve all seen film leaders that end in a flash of a 2 and a quick bleep sound.
No, that’s not a 1 frame curse word, it’s a 2 pop. The 2 pop is there so that your mixer can make sure that the separate audio and video files you send them are playing in sync. That way they can determine if anything within the body of your edit actually is out of sync. It serves as a sync reference. Your 2 pop should consist of 1 frame of 1k tone and color bars and occur exactly 2 seconds before program start, which brings us to:
Your program start (where the actual content of your program begins playing) should be at Hour 1 timecode. That would be 01:00:00:00. Not Hour 0. Not Hour 67. Hour 1. Because that way your 2 pop can be 2 seconds before, at 00:59:58:00. See, we can’t really do that if our program starts at Hour 0, right? It would be very messy timecode. In Premiere Pro, you can change the starting timecode in the timeline itself using the hamburger menu at the top:
In Media Composer, you can do this by changing the Start timecode of your Sequence in the Bin:
In DaVinci Resolve, right click on your Timeline and choose Timelines > Starting Timecode.
Some folks like to include a slate prior to the 2 pop listing production info, and that’s totally cool if you do. But the FS2T is the most important thing! (And rising fast on the Billboard Top 100, I might add). If you do include a slate, a typical sequence format might look like this:
00:59:53:00 – Slate On
00:59:58:00 – Slate Off / 2 Pop (1 frame)
00:59:58:01 – Black
01:00:00:00 – Program Start
But Michael - Why is timecode soooooooo important? Like, does it really matter?
Well, a good mixer can certainly line your audio and video up without matching timecode and without a proper 2 pop even, but that time that they are spending figuring all that out is billable time. Another way to think about it is - it’s time that they now don’t have in the session to make the edit sound as incredible as possible. Accurate, matching timecode on both the audio and video files you'll be exporting keeps things running smoothly and results in happy mixers that don’t come after you with a baseball bat.
Thanks so much for taking the time to learn about timeline setup (or “FS2T”) with me today. As this is the first article in a four part series, there's a lot more great knowledge headed your way soon that will help you or your team in getting your edits to mix smooth like butter.
Want to learn more about how to prep your edit for audio mix? Check out Article 2.
About the Author:
Michael Carr is a former editor who is Golden Trailer Award nominated. He is now Owner and President of Carrma | Creative Post Experts. Michael has worked in post production professionally for 17 years as an editor, colorist, mixer and producer, on projects for nearly all major studios and networks. He is a member of the Television Academy and Hollywood Professional Association.
***All media is used under the protection of fair use and parody.