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A collaborative editing workflow in Premiere Pro

8 minute read

Overview

For a long time, “shared user workflow” in post meant working with Media Composer or Resolve. For many post workflows, it’s incredibly useful to have more than one person working on a shared set of media or timelines (editor and assistant editor, for instance, or story producer and director, or any other number of combinations). But Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro focused mostly on making life as easy as possible for the “one mule team” filmmaker, developed more and more functionality for those who could work off of a single system and neglected multi-user features. After the demise of Final Cut 7, Premiere took off with a growing user base in the social video and marketing space, but couldn’t really break into television and feature film use without better multi-user toolsets.

For situations where you absolutely had to have multiple users on a project, there were frustrating workarounds. One old method was simple but somewhat painful: share .prproj files back and forth between users, while keeping identical media on multiple separate machines. This required tremendous work as projects grew complicated, since every time new media would come in, you’d need to make sure that the editor, assistant, director, and more were getting copies of the assets. Keeping track of the “current” version of the project was a tremendous hassle for the assistant or post supervisor, and if two people worked truly at the same time on the same timelines, there was no way to reconcile their work together.

On a shared network, more than one user can of course open up a premiere pro project file at the same time, but whoever clicks “save” last will overwrite all the work done by another editor while they are working, which is hardly an ideal solution and requires tremendous communication from room to room in the facility to ensure that nobody accidentally clicks save and destroys another editor’s hours of work.

The last few years have seen Adobe take multi-user workflows more seriously as a method of moving in on Hollywood feature and television work, enabling workflows that will also have an appeal to those working in smaller facilities where it’s still sometimes a real timesaver to have even two users on the same project at the same time.

For maximum ease of use, this requires all the users to be pointing at the same pool of media. Right now, the best functionality for multi-user situations is to work on a shared network, though there are some options coming down the road for cloud sharing that we discuss below.

Shared Network

Unlike a platform like Media Composer, which still works best when all media is ingested into a dedicated media folder, Premiere allows users to leave their media wherever they like. A user could potentially edit directly off of the camera capture card if they chose, though that isn’t always the best workflow if the card is soon to be reformatted. In reality, this means that users will frequently keep their media on a variety of external drives and occasionally on their desktop, which doesn’t scale well multiple users. Media Composer will actively migrate all your media to a media file on a server if you set that as your media drive, and Premiere can do the same if you are smart with your ingest settings.

For a multi-user workflow, you will want all of your media to be stored in a central server of some sort, generally referred to as a SAN for “storage area network.” With hardware solutions from LumaForge, EditShare, Drobo, and even Avid whose Nexis servers can work well with Premiere, there are many options to choose from, but the key is having a server that is specifically designed for multiple users to be pulling from the same set of files at the same time.

We recommend creating an individual folder on your server for each project you work on and having a “media” folder within that. That will make it easier to archive a project after it’s delivered; rather than going into the master media folder and trying to figure out what goes with what project, you move the entire master folder, with all the media, to your archiving solution all at once and it takes all the media with it.

Premiere generally links to media, meaning it leaves it where it is, but you can set up Premiere to automatically ingest media (moving it to a new location). When setting up several editors on shared storage, it’s often worth doing that to make sure that all the media ends up migrating to the shared storage and nothing lives on a local editor’s internal drive, where file path routing can lead to lost media. Nothing is more frustrating than having one of the editors save dozens of assets to their personal desktop or external drive, making them unavailable on a day the editor isn’t around. Setting up for ingest, instead of linking, avoids that situation.

You can set this ingest path on the launch window for new projects, and if you are going to be using a lot of multi-user workflows, you might want to customize the default settings on all the machines on your system.

Multiple Projects at Once

Central to understanding how Premiere works for collaborative editing is the idea that Premiere allows you to have several projects open at the same time. While most editing applications open one project at a time (though Resolve now allows for keeping more projects “active” with fast project switching, it’s memory intensive and you are really only keeping one project actively open at once), Premiere allows you to keep several projects open all together. When you open more than one project, you’ll see tabs at the bottom of your project window for your open projects, and you can close them one at a time.

The benefits of this are massive. Whereas previously, if working on a 6-episode series, a user might be tempted to put all 6 episodes together in one project. Putting all episodes in one project makes it easier to switch back and forth between episodes to avoid repetition and to create smooth transitions. With multiple projects open it’s now possible to split episodes into their own projects. This saves system memory, as you might only need 1-2 episodes open at a time instead of all six, while allowing users to easily move sequences and media between projects without having to wait for a long process of closing one project and opening another. Simply copy out of one project, switch over to the other project, and paste.

Project Locking

With no projects open in Premiere, if you navigate to your preferences panel for collaborative workflow, you can enable “project locking.” When you turn on “project locking,” only one user can make changes in a project at a time. If other editors open the project, they will only have “locked” access, where they can see all parts of the project but make no changes. They can tell they are restricted from working by the small “lock” icon in the lower left of the projects panel, which will be locked and red, when working with a project that is locked.

This is tremendously useful in scenarios when many people are working together to try and get a project over the finish line. Let’s say you are working on episode 5 and want to see the end of the current edit of episode 4, even though an editor down the hall is currently working on it. You can easily navigate to the project file (provided it’s saved on shared storage and not on a local hard drive, of course), and open it in locked mode in order to review what it looks like currently without interrupting the other user’s work or having to ask them to close the project.

You can also leave projects locked even if you are the only user editing that project at that moment in time. For instance, if you know you aren’t going to be making changes and want to leave the project available for other users. Or if you know you don’t want to make any changes and want to avoid accidentally damaging an edit in a way you might not notice. Just click the clock icon to lock it up, and the next user to open it will have it available unlocked by default.

Projects only refresh on opening: if a user is working in another workstation, the changes won’t dynamically ripple to your workstation. You’ll need to close and re-open to see the changes they have saved.

Multiple open projects will eat more of your system resources, especially memory, so be sure to close extra open projects using the file menu or the hamburger menu next to the tab on the bottom of the projects panel.

Team Projects and Premiere Rush

Adobe has been pushing their “Creative Cloud” branding for a while now, with subscription pricing and cloud storage included in a bundle. It should be no surprise that they are at the forefront of pushing collaborative technologies that are built not just around the local area network, but around keeping your media on the cloud to be accessed remotely by teams separated by distance.

At the top end of their offering is Team Projects, which allows for multiple team members to access the same pool of media simultaneously on the creative cloud servers. Only available for enterprise and business customers, it works by creating low-weight H.264 proxy files on the web that can be streamed to editing stations in various places when necessary.

A new product that has just rolled out but shows some collaborative promise is Premiere Rush. Originally launched in beta as Project Rush, Premiere Rush is a platform designed to move your media seamlessly in between workstations. By creating low res H2.64 proxies, you should be able to seamlessly open up a Premiere Rush project on your desktop or your mobile device and have it all point right to that same media on the creative cloud server.

In one scenario, you shoot on set and download with a laptop. That laptop makes background H.264 proxies and uploads them to the Premiere Rush server, so you can work on the Premiere Rush iPad app while taking the train back to the office, where you can then fire up Premiere Rush on the office iMac to make final revisions.

Premiere Rush doesn’t currently allow more than one user to work on the same project at a time, but it does create a synced pool of media on the web that can be accessed by multiple machines. Two editors who are collaborating on a project (or a director and an editor) could share a login and take turns working on the same timeline. It requires some communication to make sure they both aren’t on the same project at the same time, but it appears possible.

In order to offer a web-friendly interface that works on iPad and iPhone, Rush currently has a reduced feature set, but its projects can be ported from Rush to full-fledged Premiere. While its potential for teams is still being explored, it seems likely we will see situations where assistant editors start the process of creating a stringout, highlights reel, or even a rough cut from set in Rush before handing that over to a lead editor to do final work in full-fledged Premiere, all pulling from the same set of web media seamlessly.

Workflow Guide

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