Timecode can be very scary for some people. The notion that you now have numbers flashing by on your screen and those all need to sync up across multiple devices can put some into a panic, which is why syncing by waveform has always been the preferred method for videographers. But as cheaper cameras and audio recorders now feature timecode, it’s time to embrace the joy that is SMPTE Timecode.
Soon we will be launching the new Deity BP-TRX, a body pack transmitter that also features a timecode audio recorder. Between devices like ours, others, and new cameras hitting the market in the $2000-6000 range that feature timecode, timecode is only getting bigger. So let’s talk about how we can use that for one of the biggest types of video shoots that happens, the sit-down interview.
Setting Up Timecode
Start by grabbing the device that’s going to be generating your timecode for the day. Typically this is a dedicated timecode generator or an audio recorder. The clocks in audio recorders like the soon-to-be-released Deity BP-TRX are more accurate than those found in cameras.
Plug the output of your TC generating device into the input of your camera or other audio recorder. Go to the TC menu in your camera and set it to “Free Run.” Make sure to set your TC generating device’s frame rate identically to that of your camera(s). In the menu of the camera or audio recorder that is being jammed, look for a button/icon that says JAM or SYNC. This will read the TC signal coming into the device from your TC generator and set the internal TC to match. Now both devices are in sync with each other. Ideally you would leave a TC generator attached to your camera, but if you can’t or don’t have one to spare, remember to re-sync throughout the day to confirm you don’t have drift between the two clocks.
Syncing Your Footage and Audio
In your NLE (your editing software) you will want to put all your audio and footage into your bin that you plan to sync. For this post we will use Adobe Premiere. There are 2 methods you can use.
Sync clips individually to their audio files by selecting both, right clicking on them, selecting “Merge Clips” and making sure the bubble for “Timecode” has been selected. Click Okay. You will now repeat this for every video clip and audio clip you captured.
Put all your footage on video track 1 on your sequence. Now put your audio onto audio track 2. Audio track 1 will be audio that was recorded in the camera (you can mute this audio track at this time). Highlight all the footage on your timeline, right click and select “Synchronize.” This is a good method for syncing up multiple video clips with a single long audio file. This workflow is often used on reality TV since audio files are small, they hardly ever cut, and you may have several camera operators following different people around on a shoot. If you have multiple cameras, add those to other tracks and repeat the synchronization process until all of your clips are synced.
Must Have Apps
Having a camera and recorder isn’t enough to take full advantage of timecode sync. Knowing where you are in time is also a huge benefit for your workflow, and audio sadly doesn’t really thumbnail well in NLE editors. That’s where the Android app Timecode Notes and the iPadOS app Cut Notes really step in to fill the gap.
If you are editing a long interview and think to yourself “oh, where is that clip of them saying XYZ?” Well this app is for you. It allows you to keep notes of what people say or do during a video shoot and tag each note with timecode. That way when you are searching through footage, you just have to Alt-Tab to your spreadsheet that Timecode Notes exports, search for a keyword in your notes, check the timecode and jump right to the desired spot in your footage.
And with Cut Notes you can also take those notes one step further and import them into your editing sequence as markers. This makes it possible for you to do all the searching within Premiere.
|CUT NOTES||TIMECODE NOTES|
Now you may be asking yourself, these apps are great, but who on my set is supposed to be taking these notes? Well, that’s the job of the transcriber, logger or Story AP (this title is used in reality TV). You will want to supply this crew member with either a Chromebook for Timecode Notes (Android phones work, but you really want this crew person to have a keyboard) or an iPad to operate Cut Notes. When you hire someone that logs interviews for a living, they often will own one of these devices with the apps installed and will charge you a kit rental fee along with their normal day rate.
And I know what you’re thinking, there must be some kind of software that can create these notes for me by analyzing the waveforms of a video file. Adobe did try this with something called Speech Analysis in Adobe Premiere, but in 2019 they removed this feature because even after 6 years of feedback from users, it just never worked. So apps and skilled humans are still the best option if you are doing reality TV, documentary productions, or need to film a lot of interviews for a corporate video.
Drop a comment down below if you have any tips for working with timecode.