Interviews | Massachusetts | Technology

Demystifying Avid Editing

1 Jun , 2000  

Written by Holly Madden | Posted by:

B.U. Professor Sam Kauffmann rises above the techno-babble to make Avid editing user-friendly.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to learn how to edit on the Avid editing system. But if your only source of instruction is the Avid manual, an advanced degree in techno-babble certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Boston University film professor Sam Kauffmann discovered this firsthand when he took a three-day Avid course at Avid headquarters back in 1995. He found that the course and the accompanying manual provided too much information in too little time. In addition, the language in the manual was geared more to a programmer than a video or filmmaker.

In the years that followed, Kauffmann taught Avid editing to undergraduate and graduate film students who were also frustrated by the overly technical language of the Avid manual. He found himself searching for a more straightforward, step-by-step manual that his students could easily understand, and that would provide him with a more effective teaching tool.

With no such manual on the market, he decided to take matters into his own hands and write an Avid editing guide for both beginners and intermediate Avid users. The result: the aptly titled "Avid Editing: A Guide for Beginning and Intermediate Users." I spoke to Sam recently about the rationale behind the book and the advantage it offers to both videographers and filmmakers.

HM: Who is the target audience of your new book?

KAUFFMANN: Anyone from a beginning editor to someone who is very familiar with the system, but doesn’t use it on a regular basis and needs some refresher tips. Basically, film and video types — not engineers.

I set out to write a book that provides a lot of diagrams and examples. There are at least two on every page. It’s designed to educate in simple, clear terms, but at the same time I didn’t want it to be dry. I wanted it to be fun to read.

HM: How did you compile the content for the book?

KAUFFMANN: While teaching Avid editing over the course of several years, I took notes on my students’ frustrations, questions, need for clarity. I also spoke to local professional film editors and negative cutters to get their input into the Avid editing process. As an experienced filmmaker and editor, I also had a lot of experiences to draw upon regarding the use of Avid to edit narrative and documentary films, as well as the art of editing in general.

HM: Did you consult with Avid?

KAUFFMANN: When Avid executives heard that I was writing the book, they called my publisher to ask if I wanted someone from Avid to serve as a co-writer. I decided against it, because I wanted to be able to criticize the system and the Avid manual. In general, the Avid system is very complicated and gives you ten ways to do one thing. And inevitably, the manual is extremely dense. With my book, I wanted to boil it all down and recommend one or two ways of performing a function, based on my own trials and tribulations.

HM: What is the ultimate purpose of your book?

KAUFFMANN: To take people step by step in through the whole Avid editing process, from digitizing media to producing a finished video or film print. Also, the book incorporates my expertise in using the Avid to finish on film. Most independent editors use the Avid Media Composer or Avid Xpress because the Avid Film Composer is too expensive. However, with the Media Composer, there’s the challenge of transforming a 29.97-frame-per-second video into a 24-frame-per-second film. This process involves creating a Cut List, which is output from the Avid and given to a negative cutter.

Another advantage of the book is that it includes a companion CD-ROM that contains footage from a narrative scene. This allows beginning Avid users to start editing and get hands-on practice immediately.

Overall, it’s a lot easier to edit a narrative film versus a documentary on the Avid, because you have a blueprint to work from — the script. With documentaries, you have the challenge of piecing the story together and editing the footage at the same time.

HM: Can the book be used to learn other editing systems on the market today?

KAUFFMANN: Right now a lot of editors use Final Cut Pro, a more affordable system used solely for DV editing. There’s also the new imac imovie editing system. The interfaces of these systems are somewhat similar to Avid, and there may be some helpful tips about editing in my book that can be applied to using these systems, but the book is really about using the Avid. Overall, 96% of TV shows and 100% of feature films are editing on Avid.

HM: How long did it take you to write the book?

KAUFFMANN: Once I had compiled all of my notes and research, I started writing in June 1999, the beginning of summer break at B.U., and finished in October 1999. The book was published by Focal Press in May 2000.

HM: How has it been received so far?

KAUFFMANN: My publisher brought the book to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in Las Vegas, where it got a great response, especially from educators. I’ve also received a lot of positive feedback from students, as well as some stellar reviews on amazon.com.

HM: Where can the book be purchased?

KAUFFMANN: On amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, as well as at Borders book stores and through Focal Press. 

HM: Any other book ideas in the works?

KAUFFMANN: My focus has always been on being a teacher and filmmaker first and foremost. I never really set out to be an author. But down the road, I may write another how-to manual, because they’re actually fun to write. 

Sam Kauffmann is a director, cameraman, editor, and a film professor at Boston University’s College of Communication, where he has taught undergraduate and graduate filmmaking for more than 12 years. He is also known for his award-winning documentaries, including ‘Killing Time’ and ‘Show Your Love,’ a documentary produced for Vice President Al Gore. A copy of ‘Avid Editing’ can be purchased at BarnesandNoble.com. Also see a chapter from Sam Kauffmann’s book on ‘Keeping in Sync’ in NewEnglandFilm.com.


Sam Kauffmann is a director, cameraman, editor, and a film professor at Boston University's College of Communication, where he has taught undergraduate and graduate filmmaking for more than 12 years. He is also known for his award-winning documentaries, including 'Killing Time' and 'Show Your Love,' a documentary produced for Vice President Al Gore. A copy of 'Avid Editing' can be purchased at BarnesandNoble.com. Also see a chapter from Sam Kauffmann's book on 'Keeping in Sync' in NewEnglandFilm.com.