Over the last decade, Jeff Greenberg has amassed over 20 different software certifications. He is a Master Adobe, Apple, and Avid Instructor in the areas of editorial, compositing, sound, color correction and compression. Jeff is a sought-after seminar speaker as well as a post-production specialist and consultant. He is also at the helm of the esteemed Editors Retreat, a yearly exotic getaway for editors, by editors.
We caught up with Jeff to chat about all things video editing, his new Media Composer tutorial-videos, the iOS platform, what marks out Media Composer, Premiere and Final Cut Pro as being excellent NLEs, and how many apps he has on his iPhone.
Rounik Sethi: So Jeff, tell us about your background and what attracted you to working with film?
Jeff Greenberg: My background with film is a total and complete accident. This is my third career in life, I went back to college in my mid-twenties intending to be a physician. And I'm taking all the pre-med classes at a fairly large (about a 45,000-person university in the US) and I'm needing a class just to blow off a little stream and I take a History of Film class. The class you should know (and just to give you a feel in this idea of basket-weaving class) had 1,000 people. All the exams were multiple choice. I end up having such a good time in the class that my roommate turns to me and goes, "You know, they have majors in this stuff." And I said I had no idea. And literally, two weeks later I was a film major and have my degree in film and video from it. And in retrospect of course, I probably should've been a doctor, at least as far as my Jewish parents are concerned!
RS: So it just kind of happened for you, it crept up on you and took you?
JG: Well, it crept up on me and you know, I believe very much in the rule that you follow your passions. I think if you follow your passions you at least bring it to the table. Even on days where it's a job, it's fun even when it's drudgery. And there are times when this field is full of drudgery sort of work.
RS: So after you got your film major where did you go from there?
JG: I was supposed to leave college, go intern for a couple of years, or maybe go to L.A. or New York and you end up being a P.A. on set. I did none of that. Instead of interning one summer, I drove to L.A. which was about 2,500 miles from where I lived and I spent a summer sleeping on a friend's couch, working in L.A. doing corporate promotional videos for Avid. Because I looked old enough and I knew how the box worked, nobody cared if I had a degree or not.
RS: Tell us about the editing job.
JG: I walked in and there were a couple of places where they needed freelance Avid editors. It was a time where you knowing the tool meant that you were almost immediately employable. Because the tool was expensive, we're talking 40-50 thousand dollars, and it was hard to get anybody that knew what they were doing. And I knew enough that I could fake it. I knew how computers worked intimately at that point in my life. What I didn't know was how Avid worked. If I had known the equivalent of just one of the titles I've recorded [for macProVideo.com], I probably would've stayed in L.A. because I would've been that employable twelve or fifteen years ago.
RS: The industry has changed so much and it's become so much more accessible now with people like yourself teaching and training through online video, making this knowledge more accessible to Joe Public, if you like.
JG: I think that is certainly a truism, I think that it's more accessible than it's ever been, part of that also is the cost of the tools. I remember offering to trade some of my other skills just to sit and learn on somebody's Avid station. Nowadays I can download the demo from Avid's site, or Adobe, or Apple's site, and be playing with the tools. I think the thing people miss is the commitment of learning the tools and this is why people often find themselves struggling with software. I don't think everybody learns optimally from books. One of the beauties of online training is that it makes stuff very accessible in small bites especially with how busy we are in our world today.
RS: Something you've been know for is your teaching style which is described by many as being very enthusiastic, passionate and very comprehensive as well.
JG: I think that personally and professionally the biggest rule is to show up. And if you show up and you're bored it'll show...I've literally done jobs where I'm the lowest man on the pole. I show up early and I'm there to do my job. Otherwise I shouldn't be there to begin with. This to me is no different. The beauty of this sort of online training is that there is literally zero separation between me and the student. It becomes a conversation. And I think that all teaching should be direct and interactive.
RS: So, was Avid the first film editing system you started out using?
JG: Those first couple of years in film school, I managed to walk out with what I now consider novice-level Media Composer. I taught myself the rudiments of Premiere, version 3 and version 4 in '95-'96. We're talking After Effects 2 and 3, and also some video compression. I was hired right out of film school by one of my professors instead of going to L.A. or New York and I made it a point to become strong where my colleagues were weak. I worked with 2 or 3 other editors and they were all better editors than I was simply for the reason than they'd been doing it professionally for a couple of years. They were novices when it came to After Effects. They just didn't know how it worked. They were novices when it came to video compression. When Final Cut Pro 1.0 came out I lobbied hard for us to buy it knowing that I could learn it because it was, for a lot of people, the future of video away from Avid.
RS: You've got this insatiable desire to learn. And that has helped you kind of stay ahead of the field in many ways. What would you put that down to?
JG: My parents taught me two really amazing life lessons. We all joke that our parents are a little dysfunctional...my parents did some things wonderfully and, like anybody else's, missed in some ways. My parents did two things for me that I will try and instill to my now thirteen-week-old child: One is they gave me a love for books. I had read probably upwards of five hundred to a thousand books by the time I was twenty-five. I only know that because I had to move the books and it was like thirty-five boxes. The second thing they taught me is the idea that I should keep learning whether or not I was in a university, being able to teach myself. A man who can teach himself can continue his education. I use the same things that the rest of us use: I use books, trying things with the software and I've watched a few things on macProVideo just to become stronger at what I do. I try to devote a fixed portion of my week, at the very least an hour, to making sure I'm doing some active education. I do a lot of passive education, reading of websites and stuff, all the time. My parents really did me right in those two ways: a love of books and the idea that I should continually be trying to further my education. The moment you stop learning is the day you start dying.
RS: This past year has seen some seismic changes in the NLE field. I think you know what I'm talking about: Final Cut Pro 7 to Final Cut Pro X...
JG: Seismic is a great word for that. All three of the major players, Apple, Avid and Adobe, make great tools. They each have different niches where they have different strengths. I will never give a straight answer on which one I think is better or worse. I can give you scenarios where I think [one of them] might be stronger or weaker. I think Apple's biggest mistake, for the first time I can really remember, was that they botched their PR so badly with Final Cut X. 'Cause here we are, we're now almost a year later, and they've returned at least a couple of the major features that people were really upset about.
I think that both Avid and Adobe have done a tremendously smart thing, they've seen this vacuum of people becoming "x" Final Cut Pro users...and feeling very frustrated and betrayed by Apple. Adobe and Avid did very smart things to step into that hole. Suddenly they had a chance to grow in an area that had been fairly stagnant in the sense that they weren't going to see a forty percent increase in people adopting their application. So seismic is a great way to describe Apple's release of Final Cut X.
RS: You've been used to learning new software throughout the years. Did you find it difficult to adapt to the new paradigm in FCP X?
JG: Yes. The hardest thing, especially as we get older, is that as we go to learn something new, we invariably compare it to the things we're comfortable with. It's something we cannot help but to do. One of the things that I try and remind students is that when they were sixteen, everything was new. At the age of twenty-five or thirty, they feel like they're a little bit a master of the universe. You have to approach your learning of software as if you're a ten-year-old where it's all new and you should be amazed by it. About thirty percent of how I though Final Cut X should work was totally and absolutely wrong and only now being on the other side, having used it on a couple of projects and having thought about it, do I think that Apple was really ambitious.
Like a lot of other people I felt frustrated that it just didn't instantly work the way I expected it should work. I think that Apple did a smart thing, they said we're Apple and we're big enough to make a paradigm shift. Whether it's right or wrong in the long run is irrelevant. They actually said we should be rethinking this process of editing video that no longer sources on film, no longer sources on a videotape, why are we sticking do those paradigms?
RS: Version 1 of Final Cut X wasn't, in many people's opinions, ready for primetime. Do you see any similarity between that and Final Cut Pro 1 when it came out?
JG: Great question. Apple strategically announced the original iPhone in January [of 2007] and didn't ship it until June. They essentially said to everybody who's an Apple fan you should wait rather than being forced to be locked into 2 years with a new cell phone. Apple had a major problem this past NAB [in 2011], they had been [several] months without an update to Final Cut X, the field had quickly changed to file-based acquisition and editing and Final Cut 7 just wasn't up to the task. There was too much associated work that had to occur, transcoding and dealing with DSLR cards which had become wildly popular. Apple needed to announce something and ship it even if it wasn't ready, to act as a stop gap.
So, do I think there was a problem with Apple shipping a 0.9 product? To be honest, no I don't. I think they did the right choice given the way NAB works, and the way the pro video field was frustrated with Apple at the time. I think the difference between Final Cut 1.0 and Final Cut 7 to X, with Final Cut 1.0 nobody took Apple seriously for video editing. It took [up to version] 3 before people were really beginning to accept the product, and 4.5 for them to accept it for high-def.
RS: How should new users choose between the 3 big players? What are the strengths of each NLE?
JG: Let me make this clear first off, all these three tools are great and can do the job. I’m going to list the strengths of each one...
Avid Media Composer:
Apple Final Cut Pro X:
There are two statements that go hand in hand. One is the 80-20 rule that says that eighty percent of how to do a given job can be learned in twenty percent of the time. I, inside of a year, can make somebody a really decent music mixer, make somebody a really decent sound mixer. I didn't say make them great, but I can make them acceptable inside of probably a year. But it's that 80-20 rule: you have to put that same sort of passion in the remaining eighty percent of the time to own that other twenty percent of information. This is one of the beauties of sites like macProVideo.com. You can go on and become good with After Effects. You may not know how to do every single thing with it but you can become capable in a short period of time. Could you be a Super Master Expert? I think it has to go beyond just what we access in learning and it comes through spending that other eighty percent.
RS: So, putting it into practice and really exploring it through practically using it is what you’re suggesting for those learning the art?
JG: Yeah, absolutely. That's the hard thing, to keep all this stuff in balance. You might say, "I think I'm a novice when it comes to video editing..." and I'll call a little bit "bull" on you [because] the basic storytelling process hasn't changed in two thousand years. We have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And you can do an adequate job. Could you sit back and finesse a moment, an eye blink? No, but for ninety percent of what we do we don't necessarily appreciate or see that finesse.
RS: Well, that's very interesting because the medium we use to tell stories of course is changing and has changed. What I'd like to bring in to this conversation is the iPhone and the iPad, with iMovie for iPad 2 and Avid Studio for iPad. This is another way, another medium to create stories, and for consumers to actually see and experience the story itself. What do you make of the iPad and the future of tablet devices for both these processes?
JG: The future with all these tablet devices is really wonderful and brilliant. I think it has some limitations and the limitations for me are almost the same as mouse vs. keyboard. The golden rule of iPhone [iOS] applications or Android applications is that you shouldn't have to read the manual at all. You can do some things that are very sophisticated. The things I'm doing on my iPad or my iPhone, I look back ten years ago and you're talking a dream. You know, I needed thirty thousand dollars of computer to do that stuff. So I sit back with unbridled joy. When I go and I say, "Oh, look, I'm editing a clip and making an adjustment." I think it works great in a one- or two-minute piece. But, I think I would go absolutely nuts to do a 22-minute episode on an iPad. Just because I'm looking to be fast. To me, with this technology, you learn via touch and mouse but you get fast by learning shortcuts and keyboard. The real true moment (and we've all had this moment) with software is when the software becomes invisible. It becomes and extension of your fingers.
RS: Very interesting. I'm a massive shortcut kind of guy...
JG: There's not a person out there who's gonna read this article and who selects their text, goes up to the menu and chooses "Bold". They know there's a command for bold and you can hear it in the language of the way I describe it: command - b! It's command for bold, you don't even think about it anymore! I think all software should be like that.
RS: That's one reason I love Logic Pro, for example. There are so many key commands and shortcuts and you can customize them. You can do things that would take you a few minutes with the mouse in a few seconds.
JG: Right. But there's one cognitive jump I want to make: it has to feel invisible and intuitive. So yeah, in Logic, in Motion or in Final Cut you can assign anything to any key. But assigning it to any key doesn't make sense. So when we take about an out point, the most logical key for it to go on is the letter "o". And an in point is the letter "i" and God knows they sit next to each other on the keyboard. And if you look right under them run j, k and l. And that's why every editorial system has the "in" and "out" points on the "i" and "o" keys. And there's the shuttle using j, k and l because those keys are logical and intuitive and become invisible. We want our shortcuts to be invisible, to be an extension of our body. And it's the most important moment with software: when it becomes invisible.
RS: It seems apparent Apple is pushing voice technology as ways of controlling devices, as ways of communicating with devices. Do you see the advent of technologies like Siri as being a possible way of editing?
JG: Only if it's faster. I think that's the true bottom rule: if it's faster and more intuitive. Now, do I think it would be wonderful if I would go, "Select the part of the interview where he says 'from Boston' and end with 'to Philadelphia'?" And who knows how much text is between. That works brilliantly, as long as he said the words 'from Boston' and 'to Philadelphia' and not 'near Philadelphia'. The thing that makes Siri so brilliant—because voice technology has been around for a while—is the way it does intelligent interpretation of fuzzy language. Editing in a lot of ways is about precision. It's about making an adjustment at a very specific moment. Do I think it might be nice to be able, as I'm trimming or adjusting, to go back five frames and it just does that? Absolutely. But if it pauses for a second before it does it, it's going to be faster for me to do it with my hands. So, it's an interesting thing where I wonder a little bit if it's the tail wagging the dog. Generally we have these expensive tools that get the coolest new features that eventually filter into the consumer tools. We're now seeing some stuff from the consumer tools—touch interfaces, audio interaction—and we're talking about them maybe filtering in some of the more professional tools.
RS: So, you've got many Media Composer 6 titles out. For example, Media Composer 105: Creating Titles. Can you tell us about them?
JG: Avid has grown as a company and has grown as a tool hand in hand with editors and sometimes they would implement something that didn't have necessarily an easy interface but it was so powerful and fast, nobody wanted to be a push-button item. I find that Media Composer is not as user-friendly as we might necessarily like. What I brought to these titles is passion. I wanted you to see where the ease of construction is and how fast you can truly become with the tool. My approach for doing this was very much the why: why would you touch this button, why you need to know this feature. I tried to cut out everything that wasn't important and crucial to learning an application away from it. Why would you need to watch these titles? You would need to watch them because you want to learn the application from somebody who went back and specifically try and remember what it was not to know it. Which is the way I approach teaching pretty much everything.
RS: What areas do you cover in the Media Composer 106: Creating Titles and Color Correction tutorial?
JG: I could spend 2 or 3 days teaching color correction theory and capability, which is lousy if you just want to fix how bright a shot is! I show how the automatic corrections work as well as an advanced effect or two, shot-to-shot matching. I think I made it very accessible which means that practically you could use the auto settings on a clip very easily and quickly. With effects we get into key framing to make you comfortable with the idea of 2 keyframes and animation. With compositing we talk about the picture-in-picture effects and some of the more sophisticated Avid effects like the 3D warp. We don’t necessarily go into every control on each effect which will be too much to learn, but my goal was to know the most valuable pieces of information on how color correction, effects and compositing work without walking out feeling overwhelmed.
RS: So being such a busy and in-demand trainer and consultant, and having a new baby, what do you do with your spare time when it presents itself?
JG: I like to consume media in any shape or form I can. That means I’m watching about 7 television shows, in fact I’m crushed they don’t make television as rapidly in the UK as they do in the US. Right now Sherlock is possibly my favorite television show.
RS: It is a fantastic show!
JG: Well, I’m a huge fan of Steve Moffat. It’s unbelievable how good the show is. Can’t wait for the second season to be available via iTunes. I also read voraciously. Almost all of my reading has shifted from paper based to electronic. I’m reading almost entirely on my iPad via PDFs or eBooks. I unfortunately proscratinate way too much surfing the web. And I've been delving heavily into iOS applications. Currently speaking my iPhone has about 600 applications, I think.
RS: That is a humongous amount! (laughs)
JG: I found 3 or 4 applications just today! My big thing is that you should professionally be taking the things you enjoy and finding a way for it to become self-sustaining. But even in my hobbies (because I'm a teacher) I look at where is the lesson in this and can I share this information with other people.
RS: That’s great! Thank you Jeff for taking the time from your busy schedule for chatting to The Hub!