Video Wisconsin studio 2007 circa 2007

Video Wisconsin’s online editing studio circa 2007

If anyone is still trying to sell you offline and online editing prices for video editing, please sell THEM a bottle of snake oil.

What I’m telling you is really old news … I hope no one has been selling either of these since 2004 or so. HOWEVER, the reason why I’m writing this is that I just ran into two fairly recent (Bright Hub and Creative Cow) mentions of offline and online editing and want to make sure we quash any stragglers.

History of offline/online video editing

Back in the day, from the 1970s until the late 90s or so, there was a good reason for “offline” and “online” video editing.

Offline meant that your editor would construct a very rough videotape using what we call an A/B editor. The A/B editor (a very simple tape machine) would accept only one tape at a time. So producers had to shoot all A-roll (interviews) on certain tapes, and all B-roll (cover footage) on another. (If this doesn’t make sense, don’t spend too much time trying to decipher it. Consider this process “prehistoric.” I didn’t have to shoot this way after 1990 or so.)

What you got as a client was a “hard cut” version of your video. No music, no sound effects, and no dissolves or other effects between your shots. To have made such trappings would have been prohibitively expensive, given that you, the client, hadn’t even approved the chronological story line. And that’s what a rough cut once was — the story line without bells and whistles. These were the days of “linear” production.

On your offline, you might have also gotten a “scratch track,” a nonprofessional talent (such as the producer or writer) reading your script (a way of saving money before spending it on expensive union talent — before nonunion talent was embraced). But probably not.

“Online” editing meant that your narration, music, sound effects, and video effects would be added. Also, online prices could rise (sometimes dramatically) if you used more than one kind of video or film format (say, mixing film with 3/4” video, or mixing any film or video formats). More audio and video equipment would need to be wheeled into your online editing room, in other words. And each would have its own line item on your final invoice.

Video editing used to be really expensive. The whole idea of an offline edit was to put all the parts into place before making them look pretty. (The idea is pretty awful, as these days a lot of story lines are fiddled with all the way up until “publishing,” which can be blessing and a curse.)

The (also outdated) version of offline & online video editing

Later, when digital (nonlinear) shooting and editing trended, offlines referred to edited versions captured at lower resolution. Onlines used an edit decision list (EDL) to map back to the original source footage at high resolution, when the time was right to import them into your video timeline.

Offline and online editing today

TODAY, good workflow hygiene demands that high-resolution footage be brought in at the beginning of the edit. There is no reason to have a higher resolution for an “online” version. Now, your “rough” version requires additional hours of PhotoShop or Effects or animation. Which should have already been built into the original budget in the first place and shouldn’t have been considered “online” material.

Still, well into the 2000s, many production companies continued to charge for offline and online prices, even when no good reason for them existed. This practice infuriated me. In other words, the footage was brought in at high resolution for the offline, and no new equipment was needed for the online. In fact, often it was the same editor who did both — why should the rate for his or her services be different? But production houses took advantage of the changing times and the ignorance of their clients.

Why some production houses went extinct

And that’s one reason why some of these dinosaurs (production houses) became extinct. Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen many of the large production houses go under, simply because they didn’t keep up with the times or charged too much. They refused to pay attention to the trend of people buying their own AVID and other editing systems and doing the work in their basements.

Today, your video editors call the “offline” a “rough cut,” and the final a “final cut” or “polished cut.” It’s trade practice to charge by the day or hour for editing, but not different rates for “rough” and “final” editing.. No new equipment is “being wheeled” into your edit suite.

The only time you should see the term “offline” is when it refers to a storage vault, and there may be a charge for storing your footage as well as bringing it out of storage when needed. If you see the terms “offline” and “online” anywhere in your contract or in your production company’s workflow specs, make sure you understand what it means.

For reference, please see:

Video 101: Offline and online editing

by susan time to read: 4 min

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