This is an article that I wrote for Videomaker Magazine in 1992.
Back in those days before the advent of digital video I dreamed about a future which has come true. (Mostly)
2002 - An Editing Odyssey
Any vision of the future is bound to be wrong and incomplete. If you're a videomaker reading this article sometime in the early part of the 21st century and having a good laugh, please remember that the world I live in is still mostly analog.
As a video editor I've spent countless hours of my life in preroll. For those unfamiliar with the term, preroll is a short period of time when an editor has little to do but wait for professional videotape machines to get up to speed. Even' time you preview an edit, every time you perform an edit, videotape machines must roll backwards five seconds to a synchronized starting point, pause, then roll forward to the edit point. Let's say you've worked several hours on an editing project with 100 edits. On the average you make two previews, then perform the edit. For the sake of easy math let's estimate each preroll period spanned ten seconds. In that one project, fifty minutes of your life were wasted on preroll. This article was born of the desire to reduce that extreme and unnecessary amount. Dawn of USEM
I'm not a technical person. I don't know exactly how editing machines work; I just know how to use them. Nor do I understand all the technical intricacies of digital video; I just know it holds the future of video. The main technical problem in digital video, as I understand it, is one of storage and retrieval. But one video still frame requires an enormous number of ones and zeros. In my imagination I've solved this problem by inventing Universal Storage Electronic Memory (USEM).
USEM makes today's most advanced disk drives look and perform like an old 78 record played on a windup Victrola. USEM is the size and shape of a credit card, yet features no raised numbers or letters and is completely clear. If you hold it up to the light you may notice strange internal reflections.
The USEM you carry in your wallet can hold in memory your 100 favorite feature films, in HDTV surround sound, and even' bit of your personal music collection, from 78s, 45s, albums, tapes, CDs and DATs.
It can also store every frame of film and video you've ever shot. Your entire medical history, including copies of any and all imaging tests, X-rays, MRIs, CAT scans and ultrasonics with a complete interpretation of the images by the radiologist and your personal physician in Medicalise, plain English or the language of your choice.
There's room for your complete financial records, everything you've ever written in your life, every periodical you've ever received in the mail, 100 of your favorite novels or reference books and the complete set of even-single edition of The Tonight Show staring Johnny Carson. The best thing about USEM is that all information is instantly accessible. And, of course, if you're editing with USEM, there's no preroll. From anywhere in the world you'll be in instant communication with anyone in the world. Whipped Video
The future of video is digital. It's digital in signal acquisition. It's digital in post production editing. It's digital in broadcast.
Film and videotape will go the way of the buggy whip and the hand-cranked motion picture camera. The joining of video and computers will place in the hands of millions the ability to produce images and sounds for the screen, images superior to anything produced for network television today.
When that happens, and I predict it will occur within the next ten years, video images for the screen will at last be considered an art form. Low-cost equipment will remove this very expensive paintbox from the exclusive domain of "film and video professionals" and pass it to everyone. Inevitably, some young person with no training will produce a program so remarkable it will break the conventions of film and video, and will change the world. It's easy to envision the future of digital editing. The technology already exists, though it's very expensive. Within the next ten years low-cost digital editing systems will become available to the average videomaker.
What will this machine look like, and what will it be able to do? It will be very compact, about the size of a small portable typewriter. You'll open the lid to reveal a computer-type keyboard with special edit command keys, a joystick controller and a detachable, wireless mini mouse/pen. The inside of the lid is a twelve-inch, high-definition, flat-screen color monitor. The lid is also a high quality audio speaker in both stereo and surround sound. All the video and audio information from whatever acquisition source will be downloaded instantaneously to the editing machine's internal USEM. If the video and audio signals aren't already time coded they'll be assigned a number during transfer. From there the process of editing is simple, much like editing text with a word processor. This battery-powered, portable machine of my imagination will perform straight cuts and whatever transitions you choose to call up; dissolves, wipes and fades, dozens of animated transitions like fire, water, smoke, rain on the window, clouds and breaking glass. The built-in character generator will feature millions of colors and hundreds of fonts, movable in any way imaginable. All the video signal processing extant in today's high-end on-line video editing suites, paintboxes, framebuffers, keyers and 3D animation will be built into the magical little machine. To call this an editing machine would be like dubbing today's most advanced main frame computer an adding machine. A new word has to be coined to properly describe it. So let's call the thing an Audio Video Information Processor (AVIP). This editing machine of the future will forever put to rest the concept of off-line and on-line editing. With AVIP all editing will be on-line. It can also be used as a portable, multitrack, digital audio recording studio. How many tracks? As many as you need. AVIP Phone Home
You'll also be able to use AVIP as a production switcher. It will come equipped with multiple video inputs and several internal sources. Ever seen the amount of equipment a TV network sends to cover a major sporting event? Several huge truckloads of equipment and a small army of people to install, maintain and operate it. The heart of the operation is the control truck. All audio and video signals are routed to the truck, where the director and the production staff assemble the various inputs into a live switch, a hot mix of the event as it unfolds. Besides the live action of the game itself, the director is able to call up graphics displaying statistics of the teams and individual players, as well as instant replays and the coach's chalkboard. And don't forget short interviews with players and coaches taped before the game and mixed in with the action. With AVIP, a few good camera operators would allow you to cover a local high school football game with the same production values as network coverage of the Super Bowl. AVIP will also feature a telephone interface and built-in modem. The flip-up screen with tiny built-in video camera will make the long-predicted videophone practical at last. AVIP will be totally cellular, so you need not plug in. From anywhere in the world you'll be in instant communication with anyone in the world.
Learn and Wait
Of course AVIP is just a tool. It won't do the creative work itself. The person using AVIP must understand how to tell a story visually. We all know, with absolutely no training, how to watch a movie. It's like a language you don't need to learn. But writing in this language does indeed take some training. There's a visual grammar and syntax an editor must use to tell a visual story in an understandable way. Basic editing for the screen is also a craft, like woodworking. The more you do the easier it becomes. So even though AVIP is still several years away, I encourage all serious videomakers to learn the principles of editing for the screen on the creaky old antique analog videotape editing machines of today.
For although the machinery we use to manufacture sounds and images for the screen is changing, the basic grammar of visual storytelling has been with us since the early days of silent movies and should continue on into the next century and beyond.
Paul Boczkowski is a ten-year veteran of film and video production.